Brenden, my three-year-old son, was a quiet child, well behaved and a bit shy most of the time. He hadn’t yet discovered the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, or He-Man and Castle GreySkull. He loved to play with cars, trucks, and stuffed animals, of which, like his mother, there were many. Each one had a carefully chosen name.
It was my first Christmas as a single parent, and rather daunting. How would I balance work, pay the rent and babysitter, put food on the table and still make Christmas fun for my three year old son, I wondered?
The ringing of the telephone brought me back into the here and now. I answered on the third ring.
It was my dad. The one person in my life who never initiated a telephone call. Fear clenched my heart. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Did something happen to mom?”
“No,” he laughed, “Mom’s fine. You can talk to her in a little bit. Can I talk to Brenden?”
“Ummmm… sure, Dad. I’ll get him.”
Brenden bounced to the phone. It was probably the first time the phone had been for him.
“Hi, Grandpa!” He chimed. “Uhhhhh… a big kangaroo. Bye, Grandpa.” Brenden dropped the phone and left it swinging like a pendulum on a spring against the wall. Off ran the boy, on a mission to give each of his stuffed animals a ride in his favorite Tonka truck before I put supper on the table.
I talked to my mother; asked her what that was all about. She explained that my dad wanted to know what Brenden wanted for Christmas. We chatted a few minutes more, then ended the call.
A week or so later, my mother called. She sounded a little frustrated and asked if I knew of a store that sold a big kangaroo. She said that the only one she could find was at a hardware store in town and cost forty dollars! An outrageous price for a stuffed animal, albeit a large one, back in 1983. I promised to look and let her know.
My search for a stuffed kangaroo was fruitless, which caused my mother no small amount of dismay. “Your dad is determined to buy Brenden a big kangaroo,” she shared, “but the only one I can find is forty dollars. If I can’t find another one, I know he’ll insist I go back and spend forty dollars on a stuffed animal! That’s outrageous, don’t you think?”
“Yes, Mom, it’s outrageous. I’ve looked in every store in town and I can’t even find a little kangaroo. I’m trying…”
Mom was frugal; Dad, not so much.
That was the last kangaroo conversation we had before Christmas Eve. I assumed she found a less expensive one; maybe a smaller one.
On Christmas Eve at my parent’s, there was a large box near the tree; far too big to fit beneath. The box was nearly as tall as Brenden! Imagine his excitement when he learned that the biggest present was for him!
Brenden excitedly tore away the gift wrap and peered into the box… his eyes grew large as he exclaimed, “It’s a BIG KANGAROO and a baby TOO!”
He dubbed them ‘Kanga’ and Roo’. Of course.
Back in the sixties, my dad made sure that Christmas was fun for my brothers and me. Then, in the eighties, when grandchildren came along, he did the same for them.
Dad died last year at Christmastime. Tomorrow, December 19th, will mark the first anniversary of his passing. For me, it is a bittersweet time with sad feelings of missing him buoyed by joyful memories of him at Christmas, making things fun.
Rest in peace, Dad. I love you.
One dark night, decades ago, two friends and I spent the evening bar-hopping. It’s what we did back then. We have since mended our evil ways.
I was the designated driver simply because I owned a car. Let’s just say I wasn’t completely sober and leave it at that…
Sally lived about 20 miles out of town and we decided to bring her home first.
Traffic was light, as is usually the case in the dead of night in the middle of nowhere. We were driving along that paved country road somewhere around the midpoint of our journey, probably not exceeding the speed limit by much, when we crested a hill…
SCREEEEEEECHH!!! I stomped the brake pedal with both feet, praying fervently that I could stop short of hitting a horse! A very large, very dark, HORSE. Perhaps two.
We determined, rather quickly, that it was indeed two horses in the road, one in each lane, both standing broadside, facing west. Both were dark in color, and difficult to see at 2:00 a.m.
Avoiding them by swerving into the other lane was out of the question. Our choices, besides hitting the horses, were to veer to the right, onto the shoulder down a steep incline and into a field, preferably without rolling the car. Choice #2 was to veer left, cross the oncoming lane currently occupied by a horse, hit the ditch and attempt to weave our way through a single row of pine trees and into a corral.
Seatbelts were not required back then, and not every car had them. I honestly don’t remember if my car was so equipped. The impaired driving laws have tightened up a lot in the last forty years as well.
Cute little Shetland ponies these were NOT. They were more the size and color of Adam Cartwright’s horse on ‘Bonanza’.
Both horses had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look in their eyes and remained firmly rooted to the asphalt.
By the grace of God, we managed to stop just shy of the beast in the northbound lane.
Once our wits came back to the party, we decided that the responsible thing to do would be to tell the owner that their horses were loose. A good plan, even at that hour.
I turned into the closest driveway. We climbed the steps and pounded on the door repeatedly, to no avail. Either no one was home, or they weren’t answering the door. Time to move on…
There was a small house across the road. We approached and again, we beat our fists loudly on the door. We thought we heard a noise from inside and added our voices “YOUR HORSES ARE ON THE ROAD!”
A fearful young woman opened the door a crack… and recognized us. We were high school classmates! She told us how scared she had been; her husband was working and she was home alone.
We helped her inspect the corral, finding what she thought were bear tracks and a break in the fence, presumably the frightened horses leaned into the fence until it broke.
I was in that spot roughly halfway between vertical and abed when I heard the Noise. I wasn’t standing, yet I wasn’t laying down either. I was in that awkward position between the two where gravity ruled and I fell, thankfully to the bed, somehow landing to the dog’s left, who’s primary concern was the treat clutched tightly in my right hand.
In another part of the house, something had cracked loudly, fallen with a clatter followed by a sliding whoosh and a thump.
I scrambled to my feet as fast as a lady of indeterminate age with a bad back, artificial knee and general klutziness is capable, nearly tripping over the dog who remained focused on her treat, seemingly unaware of the disturbance in the other room.
“What the heck was that? Do I really want to investigate?” I thought. “What if it’s an intruder?” I’d heard a crack and a clatter and a slide and a thump, but no crash of breaking glass.
I was somewhat relieved… at least I would know the other party involved, namely, my husband Jimbo, the man who has had a wide variety of mishaps over the years. He has fallen out of tree stands from various heights on multiple occasions with a number of lethal weapons and unintentionally dropped a loaded boat on my foot resulting in three broken toes (mine) and a strained back (his). On a recent trip to Alaska, he nearly slid off the edge of a ten-foot cliff saving himself by clutching tightly to a menacing plant known as Devil’s Club. He escaped that little fiasco with a mere meniscus tear in his left knee which has since been repaired. Jimbo has slid on ice, fallen flat on his back, and tripped both up and down stairs. He injured himself with a chainsaw, twice, and even shot himself in the hand with a compound bow.
So what happened tonight?
Thoughts tripped about inside my head, sometimes colliding and cutting each other off. Whatever could it be this time? Would reinforcements be needed… possibly the first responders or the fire department? Did he break anything (including himself)? Was he okay? Was he alive? Did he have a heart attack? Did his blood sugar take a nosedive?
I hurried through the kitchen and hooked a right into the living room. There, over the back of the blue Lazy-Boy, underneath the Christmas tree, were a pair of rather large feet clad in Jim’s dark brown slippers. The toes were pointing up, in alignment with the rest of the body, so a broken or dislocated hip or knee was unlikely.
I skirted the chair and found my hubby laying on his back atop the backrest of the armless office chair. For all the world, he looked like an overturned turtle with its shell on sideways. The turtle was dazed but conscious.
He uttered a manly groan and slowly brought his hand to his head and checked for blood. Finding none, he gingerly began to move his remaining limbs. Being a veteran mishapper, he knew the drill; make sure all his parts were still attached with little to no bleeding and working fairly normally before attempting to rise.
“Are you okay?”
“I didn’t knock the tree over,” he muttered.
“Well, thank God for that,” said I, suppressing a smile, “but how about you?”
“I hit my head on the table.”
I extricated the chair from beneath him as he began to grumble, “The damn chair broke!”
There, under the tree up against the wall, was the fractured leg of the chair, its swivel foot still moving slightly.
Jim carefully extended his legs one at a time, sliding his feet across the floor then lifting each leg in turn. In time, he log-rolled onto his belly and hoisted himself to his hands and knees.
I offered my help which true to form, he promptly refused as he struggled to settle himself into the recliner where he could properly assess the situation. He gratefully accepted the ice pack I procured, looking first at the pack, then at the various parts of his body that might benefit from an application of cold, finally choosing to place it on his scalp with great caution.
The following morning I expected him to descend the stairs with the agility of a man twice his age.
I was wrong.
He came down with his normal gait and a bewildered expression on his face. “Wow… I thought I would be one hurting machine today.”
A day or two later, he regaled our chiropractor with the story of the night fall. The good doctor put forth tremendous effort in maintaining a professional facial expression, finally allowing himself to smile. This was not the first time we showed up at his office following an accident. He knows us both quite well.
We were in that never-ending stretch of hot steamy weather known in Minnesota as July… 86 degrees with humidity to match. Folks slept poorly; tempers grew short. Everything was sticky. The smell of overheated, unwashed bodies permeated the air everywhere we went.
Jim and I were no exception.
This was the hottest, most miserable day of all. It was also the day that Jimbo picked to move our extra fridge from the laundry room to the garage.
I gave birth to the idea of relocating the appliance some months ago, so I felt obligated to assist. I did not feel a desire to help… I felt pure obligation. I tried to fight it and failed miserably. With a sigh of resignation, I dragged my hot, sticky, miserable body to the laundry room to report for duty.
Jim shinnied the beast away from the wall and I began sliding the laundry cupboard, one of those tall narrow cabinets with a small footprint and a fair amount of shelf space, into the spot vacated by the fridge.
It went smoothly for a second or two… then the cupboard got hung up on something and refused to move another inch. I looked down at our narrow bird’s eye maple flooring and saw the problem. The floor was a bit uneven at the joint where two floorboards butted together, end to end.
“Dang it! It’s stuck.” I hissed as I gave cupboard the tiniest little shove.
WHOOSH!!! The red water supply valve for the washing machine dropped to the floor with a clatter and a splash, propelled by a stream of hot water at full-power.
Had the refrigerator not run interference, the spare bed might have been forced to absorb gallons upon gallons of hot water.
Once the initial shock of the event passed, I ran to the basement to stem the flow of water as quickly as I could. I slipped and slid through the pouring rain in my dungeon and made my way to the area beneath the laundry. I stood on my tiptoes; my fingertips just grazed the valve but I couldn’t grip it strongly enough to make it turn… so I did what came most naturally… I screamed, perhaps unintelligibly. “ICAN”TSHUTITOFF!! I. CAN. NOT. SHUT. IT. OFF!!!
Then my inner four-star general commanded; “GET. DOWN. HERE. NOW!!! RIGHT NOW!!! HURRY!!! FAST!!! (I pride myself in my ability to stay cool in emergencies).
Jim’s size fifteen Reeboks thundered down the dingy gray stairs; his right foot nearly lost purchase as he pivoted off the bottom step and barreled toward the rain room.
He, being a full foot taller than I, had no problem reaching the valve. He gave it a quick, confident twist. Soon the rain let up, turned to a drizzle, and then a mist, finally ceasing altogether, leaving steam laden air, reminiscent of a Finnish sauna, in its wake. Just like upstairs in the laundry room, as we would soon learn.
We returned to the scene of the incident. He grabbed the mop and I threw towels down to sop up the water, grumbling about having washed that very floor less than 24 hours earlier.
Once the floor was as dry as it was going to get, we returned to the task of moving the white beast.
Jim slid the thing across the floor and into the dining room where he secured it to his two-wheeled cart and proceeded to back out the door and on to the deck after bracing the screen door open.
“Okay, just give it a little nudge to get it over the threshold”, he directed.
I hesitated a bit, then complied and together we accomplished that step of the process smoothly.
The task was nearly finished, but not quite…
“Damn, it’s stuck again,” Jim muttered as he forcefully tugged it toward himself.
I heard a popping noise and all movement ceased. Jim exhaled with frustration, “What next?!”. He reported that the latch on the storm door was now broken.
*Sigh.* Small potatoes compared to broken water pipes.
We moved on with the task at hand. The fridge was out of the house. We needed to turn it ninety degrees clockwise and bring it down three steps to the sidewalk. Then it would be clear sailing to the garage.
“What do you want me to do now?” I asked.
Jim scratched his head. “Well… go down the steps and help me lower this thing down to the sidewalk”.
I paused, reading the headline that flashed through my mind’s eye…
“Local Man Accidentally Drops Refrigerator On Wife”
I opted to assist verbally, from a safe distance. “Ten inches to the edge… six inches, now two. Okay, easy now… one more step. There. You made it. Good job, Jimbo!”
I have a message for the media: Enough already! STOP! Change your focus… please!
I am speaking about media coverage of random acts of violence and terror. Those terrible events such as the recent shootings in Chattanooga, the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and more… unfortunately too many to mention here.
There have been two theater shootings in recent years: the first in Colorado and the second in Louisiana. The Louisiana theater shooting occurred during the trial of James Holmes, the shooter responsible for the Colorado theater massacre. His trial has been covered extensively by the media, and featured prominently in the news.
Coincidence or copycat?
The message I’d like to get across is this: broadcast the events for they are newsworthy. I need to know what happened, where, and who was affected. Report the stats about the suspect. Key information only. Please do not focus your report on the criminal for days and weeks on end. Instead, report these events like you report the weather. What did people do to protect themselves? How did they ride out the storm? How are they rebuilding? And most importantly, how can I help?
You may think that I am sticking my head in the sand… I’m not. I am not an ostrich. Neither am I a judge, responsible for deciding the perpetrator’s fate. I don’t need to know the minutia of their lives. That is privileged information that only those directly involved in the case: police, investigators, medical professionals, prosecutors, judges and juries, need to know. It needs to be entered into medical and legal textbooks, maybe historical tomes.
For me, and most others in the general public, it is information overload.
Personally, I do not want to know the name of the offender, hear about their childhood, family history, health history, etc. I don’t care if their families are members of the NRA, republican, democrat, or independent. I don’t want to know if they’re an upstanding family, well thought of in their community, or if they’re highly dysfunctional. I don’t need to know their race or religious beliefs and practices. It’s none of my business.
We are ALL children of God. Good and evil can be found in every segment of society, regardless of skin color or religious beliefs. Unfortunately, we hear about the bad things people do far more often than their good deeds. Judging an entire race or segment of society by the actions of a few doesn’t make sense. History tells us that Adolph Hitler was German, so was Albert Einstein.
It’s not that I don’t care about someone who fell through the cracks, whose issues weren’t caught in time to prevent a tragedy. I do care. My heart goes out to those people and their families and I keep them in my prayers. I don’t need to know their names in order to pray for them… God is omnipotent. He knows them, even if they do not know Him.
I believe that the near constant focus of the media on the suspects of horrific acts only serves to glorify the evil-doers. Take Bonnie and Clyde for instance… no surnames are needed. Everyone knows who they were and what they did. Their story has been glorified and romanticized. Movies have been made about them.
Public safety is paramount. We need to know if perpetrators are at large; where they might be, that they are dangerous and desperate people with little left to lose, what we can do to protect ourselves. We do not need to hear an interview with their second-grade teacher or a former friend or spouse.
Once they are apprehended, we do not need to know where they are locked up. We do not need a blow-by-blow account of their arraignment, probable cause, court date, and lawyer’s names. We do not need to know who testified for or against them. We do not need to see their picture on television for days on end.
Keep it simple. Tell us who they are, what they did, and what the verdict was. That’s all we need to know. Endless reporting of details ad nauseam keeps the focus on the criminal, not the unfortunate people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Instead, respectfully and without invasion of privacy, tell us about the victims and their community. Don’t hound them unmercifully, but ask their permission (once) to air a brief history and tell me how they and their families are doing. Tell me how the community is dealing with the tragedy. Let us know what they are doing to rebuild and move on. How are they honoring their loved ones? Most importantly, let me know how I can help.
I worked as a mental health nurse for nineteen years in the Minnesota state run mental health system. During those nineteen years, I worked with patients who suffered from depression, suicidal ideation, homicidal thoughts, terroristic intention, pyromania, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, sociopathic personality disorder, anti-social personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, chemical dependency, and developmental disablility.
I saw the consequences of violence from both sides.
Some of my patients expressed a desire to commit ‘copycat’ crimes, replicating the actions of someone they saw repeatedly on the news as closely as they could. Others idolized those perpetrators: Timothy McVeigh, Jeffrey Dahmer, and others. Bonnie and Clyde.
Still others put voice to intent… stating that they felt invisible, unnoticed, unloved, outcast and unknown. Once gone, they felt they would not be missed.
What they said next chilled my blood; if they couldn’t gain recognition for who they were in this life, they wanted to do something to make people stand up and take notice… something like carrying out a plan to execute innocent people. It didn’t matter to them if they were killed in the process; their goal would have been accomplished in the act. They would be famous; their names would never be forgotten. Ever. Like Bonnie and Clyde.
Now most state hospitals are closed and school counseling positions are being cut as cost saving measures. The Church is no longer the center of our communities. More people are falling through the cracks, going undiagnosed, unseen, and overlooked. They are victims, as well. Their families have to live with the consequences of their actions, and those families pay a price as well. Their name is forever besmerched. Some of them relocate in an effort to make a fresh start. They may be haunted, lie awake at night and ask themselves where they went wrong, what clue they missed? I probably would.
This is a multi-faceted issue. Each case is unique and there is no one solution. Gun control is not the answer because first, guns are not the universal weapon of choice, and second, the likelihood of criminals following the rules and submitting to background checks is most likely quite low. Prohibition of alcohol did not stop people from drinking, so why would outlawing guns stop shootings? Stripping law abiding citizens of the right to own a gun is not the answer.
I’d like to see us begin by changing the focus of the media from the criminal to the innocent victims, providing better mental health care to everyone; put counselors back in schools and give them manageable case loads.
Let’s invest in our children and give them the best start possible… they are the future. Put physical education, art, and music back into the curriculum and bring back the Pledge of Allegiance.
Allow and encourage prayer in public, especially in our schools. God has always been in our schools, let’s recognize that fact once again.
Way back in the Fall of ‘14 when the grass was green and lush, I noticed a dripping faucet in the bathroom. I did what I always do with matters of home maintenance… I told my husband. He’s somewhat of a jack of all trades and can fix most anything if he puts his mind to it.
“The bathroom faucet is leaking…” I said.
Jim sighed and grumbled something unintelligible.
A month or so later, we found ourselves in our local Menard’s on a completely unrelated mission. We passed by the bathroom faucets en route to the check-outs. (That might have been intentional on my part).
“Oh, look! Bathroom faucets… c’mon, let’s look…” I said, infusing my speech with surprise.
“It’s fine. It’ll last a long time yet.” Jim mumbled.
“No, no, no… let’s buy one today so we have it on hand. Just in case.”
His sigh was accompanied by his trademark unintelligible grumbling.
I steered him down the appropriate aisle and asked “Which one should we get?”
A bigger sigh escaped him. “I don’t care… maybe that one,” he opined, gesturing toward any one of a dozen models.
At home, the shiny new faucet took up prominent residence on the kitchen counter. About a week later it moved to a more central point; the dining room table. To get anywhere in our house, you have to walk through the dining room. Surely he would see it and swap the faucets out, I thought.
Now, I’m not usually one to nag, but I have been known to make the occasional exception… “When are you going to put in that new faucet? That drip is getting worse.’
“I don’t know… when I get the time, I suppose.” He said during a commercial break.
Yet another week passed. The faucet mysteriously appeared on Jim’s recliner. Within the hour, it moved back to the dining room table, presumably of its own accord.
Some time later, perhaps around Thanksgiving, the faucet was demoted and banished to the dank basement where it was stored in the most logical place… near the home repair tools and plumbing supplies.
I sighed, resigned to the fact that it would not be installed on my timetable.
Fall turned to Winter. Winter turned to Spring (2015). The grass was visible, but sparse and mostly brown. It was the third week of April, roughly two and a half weeks after Easter.
Jim took a shower one quiet Thursday evening, then grabbed and loaded his toothbrush, opening the spigot with his free hand.
Water pressure propelled the single-handed unit across the room in an upward arc. Water gushed forth uncontrollably. Our bathroom faucet was now a geyser!
I was in the living room, concentrating on properly uploading our church newsletter to the website.
The dogs barked.
I looked up, wondering if I’d heard a noise coming from the other room (besides the dogs). I cocked my head to one side and listened closer. Was that Jim calling me?
At any rate, the dogs were still barking so I went to investigate. As I walked through the kitchen and into the dining room, I heard a faint voice calling “Hello…” with no apparent urgency. He might have been talking on the phone for all I knew.
I quickened my pace.
The tiny bathroom was a sight to behold: my rather tall middle-aged husband, clad in red skivvies, was standing in front of the vanity with both hands clamped down on what was left of the faucet. Water spewed between his clenched fingers, spilling into the nearly full basin below.
I paused to take it all in.
“Hello…” He said quietly. “Can you shut the water off?”
I dropped to the floor, scrambled to Ground Zero and yanked supplies from the cupboard, tossing them behind me, hopefully to dry land.
Luckily, the shut-off valves weren’t corroded. Both hot and cold turned easily and within seconds the flow of water ceased.
“It’s a good thing it didn’t blow when we were in town today,” Jimbo stated, his words laced with relief.
“Could that have happened?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah… there’s pressure on the faucet all the time.” Jim knowingly replied.
“Well, aren’t you glad I was home to help you?” I teased.
His machismo kicked in. “I would have just let go & shut the water off myself, I could have handled it.”
“Then you would have had an even bigger mess to clean up.” I calmly replied. “At any rate, I’m really glad it happened to you and not me!” I exclaimed. “You should be, too, by the way” I said, leveling him with ‘the look’ reserved for the most special of occasions.
That shiny new faucet once again claimed a prominent place upon the table where it spent a mere sixteen hours before it was permanently installed.
The installation process went smoothly. It was uncharacteristically quiet… I heard no foul language (and I was listening). Every single word Jim uttered could have been spoken aloud in Sunday School.
As I stated before, Jim can fix almost anything… when he’s in the mood.
The big Box caught my eye as I cruised past. My head swiveled of its own accord and I drew up short, suddenly thankful that I was following my husband instead of leading him. Had I been in the lead, he would most surely have rear-ended me and we would have tumbled to the floor and landed in a heap, perhaps requiring medical attention ourselves.
Jim and I stood side by side, our mouths agape as we stared in disbelief at the white metal Box.
It was a vending machine alright, that much was certain; and a very large one at that…
It dispensed prescription medication. Yes, it dispensed prescription medication. In my mind, there is something VERY wrong with that concept!
Below is a side view pic of the Mechanized Pharmacist. Around its front sat several people anxiously awaiting news of their loved ones (hence the side-view of the Box).
Those folks were staring at the Box, too.
The Pharmacist In The Box boasted that it accepted most major credit cards and once you punched in the proper code, found on your discharge paperwork, it would spit out your drugs in the proper dosage and quantity, of course.
Call me old-fashioned. Call me a fuddy-duddy. Call me a stick-in-the-mud. Just don’t make me buy medication from a vending machine. Not even one dose! A person can’t get a decent cup of coffee from a vending machine; how can anyone expect us to buy medication from one?
I’m all for progress, but some things just should not be done by machines! I like the personal touch of having a real, live, highly educated person dispense the drugs that my highly educated doctor thinks I need after he or she examines me personally. Sometimes too personally… like when they look at parts of my body I haven’t ever seen.
Like my eardrum. What were you thinking?
I like to see my pharmacist’s credentials on the wall just the same as I like to see my doctor’s credentials in the exam room at the clinic.
I simply do not want to read a little metal placard that tells me where and when my pharmacist was manufactured and by whom.