Thursday, May 31, 2007


Marshall is five, with the round face, strong chin, and frank blue eyes I've known for 45 years in his grandmother's countenance. More than that, he has her spirit, the same spirit that earned Grandma the nickname "Crash" on her mission decades ago. On her mission.

Last week, wedged firmly between both parents at church, Marshall still managed to wiggle about, count the house, and zero in on members of the congregation who held the most interest for him. At one point, his mother realized he was smiling and batting his eyes with particular intensity at someone behind him. She turned to see a handsome woman beaming at him and returning his interest.

It was Gladys Knight.*

His Dad later told him that Ms. Knight was not auditioning any new Pips. At the word, Marshall perked up even more (and he perks pretty high to start with).

"I'm a pip!"

No doubt he's heard that rather often in his young life. We have no idea what he thinks it means, but I'm pretty sure he'll be catechizing Sister Knight about it soon.

*Footnote, in the unlikely event that it is needed: Gladys Knight was one of the great R&B soul singers of all time, who with her group, The Pips, delighted music fans from 1953 until 1989.
Knight is pre-eminent in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and still does occasional gigs. She became a Mormon some years ago, and currently leads the Saints Unified Voices choir.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Some weeks ago, I had what I assumed was a recurring optical illusion: I kept seeing a bird fly into our mailbox. Since the mailbox flap is always snugly closed, I decided that the bird was flying toward the mailbox and then somewhow veering out of my line of sight. But then there was the question of the droppings.

Splat in front of the mailbox lay a considerable deposit of bird poop. Nancy said, "Well, there are droppings all up and down the street. We have lots of birds in the neighborhood, you know." Yes, and I rejoice in every one of them, but other mailboxes did NOT have the abundance of droppings at their base as ours did, just an occasional white fleck here and there. What's up with that, as the kids say.

By the Homeowners Association decree, all houses in our neighborhood have standard mailboxes. In front of each house is a brick pillar about shoulder height. Embedded in the brick is the standard USPS metal box, shaped somewhat like a large loaf of bread, with the hinged flap for putting in and taking out the 14 catalogs that constitute our daily mail these days. A bird could not get into the mailbox. Just to make sure, I opened its maw wide and felt 'way in the back, to determine if there were any feathers or other signs of permanent lodgers. Nada.

Still several times a day, the bird flew towards the mailbox and disappeared.

As it turns out, between the embedded metal box and the brickwork below is a slight gap, perhaps an inch high and as wide as the box. You'd swear only a hummingbird could fly in there, but no. A young sparrow couple had indeed set up nestkeeping in those cramped but safe quarters. And yesterday, in front of the brick pillar, three fledglings were hopping around on the ground, under parental orders to get those wings going. Of course, the minute I spotted them, I worried that they couldn't do it, and would get smashed by a passing skateboard or scooter or worse. Their hops were skittish, the fluffing out of their feathers a plea for help and comfort. But periodically they got airborne for several feet and then for a few yards. Today they are in the huge evergreen tree outside my window, gobbling up the birdseed and flying exactly as any teengers would fly, with energy if not accuracy.

Their parents are scanning the catalogs with an eye towards redecorating the now-spacious mailbox. The triplets are on their own. Send us a postcard sometime.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


"No! That's not how it happened!"

In a currently posted blog elsewhere, a fellow writes about an experience he and another man shared more than ten years ago. (These two haven't been in touch for almost that many years.) The blogger was delighted to read online his old buddy's account of a dramatic event they shared (they had nearly drowned), but was in quite a rush to clear up "the facts." Buddy had made several "mistakes." None of them changed the point of the story, but still. . . . Blogger felt it was important to get things straight.

Ah, that we ever could!

Mark Twain said that a person who could spell a word only one way showed a shocking lack of imagination. And none of us--certainly not Twain--can be relied on to tell the same story the same way twice. Blogger's Buddy was telling one of the major stories of his life ten years after it happened. Do we think he has told that story before? A hundred times? And wouldn't it naturally ripen and mature with each telling?

Some decades ago, I broke both my ankles sliding down a firepole in the mountain cabin of some friends. By the time it was over, it was quite a story, including as it did a hospital contratemps, growing rumors about how the accident had happened, and, some weeks later, a large public speaking engagement with me spouting forth from a wheelchair. Lots of melodrama and hilarity, at least for the spectators. This particular story needed no embellishment, though I'm with Twain on the value of elaboration and embroidering of anecdotes generally.

But an enhanced version of the story surfaced some years later, when I overheard a colleague of mine (from a rival university, no less) telling the story--except that she had cast herself as the owner of the cabin (and firepole) where the bones had been shattered and as the Rescuer who had whisked me off to be pieced together. Neither fact was "true" but each certainly added to her fun in telling the story. Which brings up the very interesting question of why we tell stories anyway. But another day for that.

My favorite version of the firepole incident, however, was the brief but lively rumor that I had smashed up by jumping off a mountain outhouse in pursuit of a well-known and skittish local bachelor. All pure fiction. But it's that outhouse that shows what really gifted storytellers most folks can be when encouraged.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Smelling the Deli Slices

Our wise blog-mentor and favorite poet, Emily, responded to our last blog thus: "Amazing, how much life wants to live. As long as there are deli slices and one is able to smell them, that is something."

As always, Emily gave me much to think about with that one spare line. The whole matter of life wanting to live sets off clusters of questions. Why do some lives want so fiercely to live, despite the odds against happiness, contentment, or freedom from pain, while other lives seem to have such a tenuous hold on the precious spark, even when all the externals run smoothly? I remember a 10th grade social science textbook that spoke about "emotional hardiness," admitting that research had yet to explain the why of that durable state.

But it's the deli slices that interest me today. As Emily reminds us, often dark and difficult--or just plain blah-- days are made easier by the simplest, most random things. Never has this point be made more convincingly than in Solzhenitsyn's "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." One reviewer recounts: "Prisoners take great pleasure in minor victories such as soup actually containing protein (albeit fish bones), a shelter to block the wind when the temperature falls to -40, or standing near someone who is smoking and getting the residual tobacco from his cigarette holder. "

Emily's comment got me musing about my own deli slices--the small things that are cheering when the day itself is not. Good to remind oneself of those from time to time. And interesting how very basic the "deli slices" usually are. Five of my faves might include: chocolate (of course) ; small, wondrous finches lunching on birdseed beyond the kitchen window; a spot of email from a distant friend, passing on the title of a good book, or gossip about a friend who'd dropped below the radar; finishing the blasted Times Sunday crossword puzzle by Tuesday.

And your deli slices? What "minor victories" give you great pleasure?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Girl in the Red Velcro Splint

She weighs four pounds nothing, is as white as fresh coconut, has bright blue eyes that no longer see anything, and clean pink ears that no longer hear anything. And she's more than twenty years old. Every night for more than a year, we've stuck a needle under her white fur and through her skin, to infuse her with fluids, because she also has kidney problems and would die without the daily fluids.

Last week, as very old folks sometimes do, she broke a leg for no discernible reason. Her old bones are brittle, of course, and she probably has osteoporosis.

Of course it was Saturday evening. We waited until Sunday, but finally bundled her up and took her to the emergency animal hospital. X-rays verified it: broken front leg.

"The worst part is, it won't heal," said the doc. The kidney problems, apparently.

Next day, we took her to the hospital she's used to, to have the leg splinted. The doctor there, who knows Buttons very well, said, "Well, the problem is, it won't heal. We'll give her pain meds, but. . . ." And she carefully splinted the tiny leg and wrapped it in a bright red Ace bandage, extra small.

We gave her pain meds that night and she slept soundly. Next day she ate as usual, which means about every two hours, voraciously. She didn't seem in pain, really. Just slept in her sheepskin nest. Used her box a bit when we put her in it. We skipped the pain meds that night; she slept fine anyway.

Two days later, as we watched, she hobbled determinedly from her nest to the futon (which she cannot see, but apparently smells, or maps out on an internal GPS) and leaped up to a second nest there, which is heated. That day, she climbed into the nest at will, and out when she was too hot.

Yesterday we took in her for her quarterly blood tests. An hour later the doc phoned, excited; "Her blood tests are normal! Her BUN [kidney tests] are better than they've been in a year!"

And today, when we returned to the house, she was at the door to greet us, which means she had jumped down from the futon, landing on the splinted leg, or on one wing and our prayers. She stumps around the house, eats, drinks, smells the deli chicken slices in my noonday sandwich from twenty-five yards out and comes to demand her tithe. And purrs. She has always been an Olympic purrer. For volume and beauty of tone, I'd match her against a puma.

Today, at the senior fitness center, I felt a little fatigued after my paltry few laps of slow walking around the track. About to call it quits for the day. Thought about the girl in the red velcro splint. And kept walking.