Archive for December, 2020

One Day at a Time

Creating a pastoral idyllic West Virginia existence was a metamorphosis that found much support since I was giving up a scandalous notion that called for me getting an engineering degree and doing great things with it.  Nobody but my dad had approved of that wild-ass idea, and the wider world was more than glad to congratulate me for going back to ordinary striving, which spelled marriage, getting pregnant, having babies, and settling down to do women’s work.  Even my women’s body said “You Go Girl!”

Seven years later, it had all unraveled.  Baby girl laid to rest, and persevering at Salem College in spite of tragedy, I was at the jumping-off place with my teacher’s college.  Only one semester remaining, the only thing left to do was Student Teaching.  I looked down that road, pictured my introverted self, standing in front of a classroom of flesh and blood students, and threw in the towel.  It was more than cringe worthy; I couldn’t do it.  It literally wasn’t in me.  It was the first time since I ran off the stage trailing tears during my 1950 piano recital, that I faced something which for me was just not possible.  Yet there I was, buried in the back of beyond, a beautiful place but not sustainable for a mother of three with no college degree.  I loved my babies.  How well I knew, having so recently lost one of them, and now I must fight to keep from losing them all.

I took Dale and Lane out to the Taylor farm, a familiar grandma/grandpa destination, but this time taking pillowcases filled with everything, not just the usual pajamas and toothbrushes.  Garnet promised to care for my boys until I could reclaim them, and I left.  I had paid good cash for a new washer and dryer, and arranged to have them donated to an old spinster friend, Elizabeth Spiker, who had been there for me and the kids since I first left the hollow to return to school.  It felt good to give back, a thank-you for all those free meals at her kitchen table.  Everything else got passed on to the landlady with a quick letter.  “Put it to good use,” I instructed, and the things I simply had to have went into the old Dodge.  I left the key on the table and pulled out before dawn, springs squawking and engine backfiring.

That old Dodge and I somehow made it all the way to Texas.  The only thing bad that happened along the way was shedding the pulley that turns on the front end of the main crankshaft.  In the natural order of things it runs a belt that rotates the generator.  That was a show-stopper.  It had lost its screw, but I soon had it brute-force-welded onto the shaft were it ran for many months with only occasional replacement whenever the weld joint failed.  I parked my car, my claptrap, and my body at my dad’s place in Azle while I looked for a job—any job.  Texas Instruments in Dallas was more than glad to hire me to assemble electronics, and I accepted.

That required me to find lodging in Richardson, where TI operates its Apparatus Division.  Working felt good since I was at long last making money, albeit only pennies per hour.  My dad was glad to see me once again engaged with the real world, but made a strong case for leaving the boys for the Taylors to raise. 

“How could I ever do such a thing?” I protested.

“Easy,” he replied.  “Just do it.”

That was long before Nike claimed the same quip as a slogan, and it entered the stream of history.  Daddy was smart but not always wise.  This was one of his admonitions best ignored.  With a paying job and an apartment, I was ready to petition the West Virginia Court for resumption of custody of my two sons.  More letters led to a hearing date when I was to fly to Harrisville, West Virginia, present evidence that supported my ability to care for and support Dale (8) and Lane (3) on my own and request out-of-state sole legal custody.  It was asking a lot.  I had fled the state in disarray, but at least had set up the paternal grandparents in loco parentis.  Since I wasn’t tasking my dad to support us, he backed off and was at least pleasant about having two grand-sons to contend with, a problem often called to his attention by his then resident squeeze, Marcie.  But that’s another story.

The several weeks of waiting were an eternity.  It felt as if I had crashed and burned.  The TI job was a life saver, and I lived through some panic attacks and gastro-intestinal challenges to present myself at Harrisville, West Virginia’s courthouse as ordered by Judge Max DeBerry.  Having already conceded the enormity of my situation in prior hearings, he found in my favor.  We three took off for Texas on the next plane.

This began a head-of-household/single mother act of comedic proportions.  I learned about after-school daycare that was worlds removed from mountain-momma-by-the-hour.  Just keeping a lease was a challenge.  Ask Dale who woke up from a night terror to find himself peeing into a 120 volt receptacle.  It was a real shock, and required some fast talk to keep the landlord from voiding my lease, a void equally disastrous as was Dale’s wee.  I agreed to pay for a new outlet, and the fiasco was forgiven if not forgotten.  With two kids to feed, I soon realized that my little paycheck wouldn’t be going very far.  In fact, the first time my car license came up for renewal, I didn’t have the money to pay the fee, so assessing my negative cash position, I bought a new Dodge Dart.  My old car was the down payment; my brand new TI Credit Union account offered a low interest loan; and the tax, title, and license were rolled into the deal.  All I had to do was make the payments—which I managed quite nicely given raises and promotions.  We made do.

As a child I had been moved from place to place, changing homes and schools at the drop of a caregiver’s hat.  What was difficult then, made me fearless in 1965, as I assessed present and future housing options.  I wasn’t afraid of a move.  I even liked it.  No need to scrub the oven when a new apartment would present a shiny one.  As I made more money it was fun to find a better place where the boys would be even happier, with a bigger pool, a fishing pond, or a clubhouse for after school Happy Day’s adventure.  Every new job provided the necessary release to pry us from any onerous lease.

I enjoyed moving to better, more interesting places, which is what led to a memorable relocation to a cabin on Spring Creek that used to be remote but was suddenly on the edge of suburban development.  It was a sub-let from a friend of a friend named Bill Birnam.  I paid him $60 every month and enjoyed a snug wood-paneled cabin on a creek with Tarzan swing overlook.  The boys could yell as they swung across the creek gorge cannon-splashing into the water.  With such reasonable rent there was money for upgrades, matching towels, tablecloths and napkins, and even big plans for acquiring furniture.  We were in fat city for several months until one day a dozer operator knocked on the cabin door and said he was scheduled to demolish the structure.  I was appalled, and refused to leave since I had paid that month’s rent in good faith.  Of course the next day brought the eviction notice.  As a member in good standing of Highland Park Methodist Church, I called Dr. Dickenson and asked him what to do.  It turns out the owner of the property was also a member of HPMC, and Bill Birnam had no right whatsoever to create a sub-lease and collect rent based on his cancelled primary one.  His name may have become famous in Dallas County years later, but in those days he was just a two-bit wannabe operator.  The developer, a God-fearing man, agreed to move us the very next day into a pre-paid lease at Springbrook Apartments—nicer, and even closer to TI.  God is good. 

Wherever we moved, the boys settled in nicely, made themselves at home and explored with exuberance.  Their favorite thing was to present me with treasure re-claimed from dipsy-dumpsters at each new location.  No matter how much I forbade such dangerous adventurism, it was hard to hide my pleasure when presented with something needed and useful.  My favorite Revere-Ware skillet was the bounty of just such an exploration.  I still have in my jewelry chest a fine gold chain, resplendent with two tiny gold ballet slippers and a pearl.  I’m sure Dale knows that even though I admonished him never again to undertake such risk, I was deeply touched by his gift, retrieved from the bowels of beyond. 

Not every escapade was dangerous; indeed most were wholesome, such as finding a well-stocked pond on the Springbrook grounds, secreted among shade trees, where Dale spent all his spare time bait fishing and tying flies.  He was establishing a life-long penchant for wetting his hook and befriending peace.  Lane made friends with astonishing alacrity.  Every time we moved, he learned to create more buddies to replace those left behind.  I asked him one day, how he managed it so well.  “Easy,” he replied.  “I just start throwing rocks at the new guys.  They get mad and start chucking back.  Then, I go over to their side and suggest that we make friends instead.  It always works.”  No wonder Lane grew up to break every sales record he ever challenged.  Even now, I believe he should credit our excessive perambulation for his ability to engender good will and create money.

There were five long years between Dale and Lane, a difference that no doubt contributed to their Three-Stooges brand of comedy.  Lane was constantly baiting Dale, and Dale inevitably reciprocated to excess.  I then waded in with more than enough remonstration.  Our rowdy triumvirate outdid the Three Stooges at their own shtick.  I look back with amusement and more than a little chagrin.  I always wondered which of us played which stooge, but never was motivated to investigate.  Lest the fault be placed on the boys, I should confess to hedging a blow by iron skillet aimed at Dales noggin, which was mercifully accurate in its deceleration and didn’t even raise a knot.  It was the only appropriate response to his retort that washing dishes was women’s work.  I’m happy to report that he never, ever again spoke of dish hygiene as the rightful purview of the female gender.

One Christmas when money was more than usually short, we conjured our holiday by monitoring the diminishing inventory of a neighboring Christmas tree lot.  As soon as the lights went off on Christmas Eve, and the Santa’s helpers drove away to make Christmas for good little girls and boys, we pulled on our boots and went shopping.  This was the time when cut trees went from insanely expensive, to gratis.  On December 26th all those trees were to be carted away to become mulch, or worse still,  smog.  We picked out the prettiest white-flocked princess on the lot, and dragged it away to our empty apartment where it did its best to make our holiday glow.  I suppose it was a complicated lesson to model for two little boys, but I assured them that we were saving that tree from a Joan-of-Arc martyrdom.  It’s amazing how an action can vary from scurrilous larceny to blessed mitzvah as only a matter of timing.

Sometimes timing became the catalyst.  During the early days when we only had money for food, rent, and electricity, we made-do for furniture with wooden milk crates from behind the Kroger store in the next block.  We slept on the floor, folding our clothing neatly and stacking it in the crates.  Bedding served as bed location markers and defined the spots where Beautyrests would someday hold place, dressed in matching sheets, pillowcases and goose-down duvets.  In the autumn of the year, I had long enjoyed picking dried weeds and flowers, saving and arranging them into fantastic bouquets and whimsical dioramas, where flower carcasses stood in for trees, and mirrors became frozen skating ponds, while canned snow sprayed the whole scene with the snowfall of a quiet night under a star-lit sky.  With a whiff of imagination, amazing things can be accomplished, but with a stroke of bad luck doing eccentric things beg to be interpreted as calumny.  A case in point is the time when we spent the week-end gathering weeds and grouping them throughout our rooms on the floor, where they could be utilized in one or another of that fall’s botany projects.  On Monday it was off-to-work and school, looking forward to a list of artistic endeavors yet to be accomplished at week’s end.

That was the day when the Richardson Fire Department showed up and picked my apartment number from a lottery that called for it, as well as several others, to be inspected—something to do with insurance, fire codes, and safety.  I got the call on the job: “Come home immediately and vacate the premises—forthwith.”  Of course they were alarmed at what they found in Apartment 4C.  Where others had tables, beds, lamps and chests of drawers, we had milk crates and lumber mimicking shelves separated by teetering bricks.  The whole apartment was strewn with dry weeds just waiting for a struck match.  The fireman didn’t even want to know what we were up to; the property manager just wanted us out. 

I didn’t argue.  It must have looked terrible to anyone who had no vision of the holiday to come and how we planned to make it beautiful in spite of a stretch of penury.  I apologized and moved out.  We did our best that year, and it’s memorable that it was the exposé of our odd-ball disarray that made for a lovely remembrance, while the hurtful repercussions following it are lost to time.  As years passed and we traded our found items for real furniture, life began to take on a more traditional aesthetic, but never would I be considered “normal.”  I was always too willing to entertain unusual permutations and combinations when assessing possibilities.  That was an asset when working in a job that required invention as an everyday requirement, but confusing when trying to be an everyday good citizen and a stabilizing influence for impressionable children.

As the boys got older, their situations became more complex.  It was at Sherman’s TI that I got a call to go home and let an eleven year old Lane into the house because Dale had locked him out—naked.  Lane must have made an alarming picture, red hair flying atop a blur of white limbs in full lurch, while he streaked across College Avenue to a neighbor’s back door where he might use the phone, the neighbor being—coincidentally— the North Texas State University Dean of Students.  My exasperation level was indescribable.  How was I to represent myself as a professional employee at a serious institution, with such goings-on defining my family life?  Too angry to even conjure a reproach I sank into gloom, but things must have improved since we all lived to make another day.  I felt better when I learned from Lane, who had ascertained from the Dean’s son that the renowned Dean Bledsoe spent much of his quality home time sitting on the commode, reading his paper and conversing with his family through the open bathroom door.  I couldn’t match that, nor did I want to.  We all have to have something to feel superior about.

It took a lot to get me and my Katzenjammer progeny from barefoot-and-pregnant-mountain-momma to military-industrial-aerospace-serious-contender.  The way was far from straight.  I walked it, step by step, but I didn’t do it alone.  I had those kids to keep me grounded in the things that matter most, and co-workers who kept me from falling in love with my own inventions and becoming even more insufferable.  Where would I be without the people who kept me real—and together— and connected?  Without them I would be even harder to put up with.  I can’t claim ever to have arrived; no matter the level of ascent, there would always have been one more hill to climb and one more river to cross, but the time spent on the road was well served, and the life well lived.  It’s always these little family skirmishes that most enrich my memories, not the see-me-run-Daddy triumphs that always fell short, usually flat on my face.

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Solipsism As Epiphany

This isn’t real.  What I think is a universe full of stars and planets and seas and skies and people is just something I have dreamed and reveled in, but it’s nothing special.  Others have realized that before me.  I am just now catching up to what is true.  Always I am a bit slow to catch on, refusing to wear fashions until they have survived at least two years in the popular culture.  Before that they seem just too weird.  There is even a name for this style of perception; it is called solipsism.  But that name withholds the grandeur of the reality as if it were an aberration.  But how can it be aberrant if everybody’s doing it?  I have my solipsism and you have yours.  I postulate that all of life conjures a unique perception of what is, and that creates separate worlds, perhaps individual string universes, wherein all live their existence marveling at what their “is” is.

I have always been suspicious about living at this absolute apogee of human achievement where differentiating the curve would declare the slope to be zero.  How could I have been so fortuitously positioned in my little life?  It would have had to have been a creator God who chose my parents, selected to precisely carry over traits of creativity, sensitivity, and eccentricity into an incarnation that grants access to a world in disarray that could use a bit of mothering from a female primate.  But a Creator God is not what Darwin and I have ascertained to be reasonable.  Here I am in the greatest country ever to have flown a flag, watching that banner shredded and burned on an altar of greed and selfish abandon, where all that has made that country great is poised on a precipice of cataclysm. 

Given all that, it would seem necessary that I rise to my unique occasion and do something.  But I don’t.  I’m too busy dying.  And what does that mean?  Every crossroad requiring a decision is equivocated by dithering about whether I will still be alive to enjoy the fruit of that choice.  Why buy the extra-large money-saving size when I will surely die before it is used up?  Living a life quibbling over such adjudication is a bore.  I am determined to stop it.  So what shall I do?

I puzzle about the age of Robert Louis Stevenson when he wrote, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”  He was right.  I am surrounded by wonders, even in things that give me pause, set me to grumbling, and turn me to despair.  Wherever I look, amazements abound.  The bathroom in my much disabused apartment is full of surprises.  It was constructed at a time when small accommodations were built right into the surround.  In the tiling of the bathtub, for instance, one tile is supplanted by a square ceramic handle that sits there all day every day just waiting to help me get into and out of a slippery situation without breaking bones.  How considerate.  And though I have utilized its assistance at every bathing  for three years and counting, I just yesterday realized that on arising with its aid,  it is more efficient to turn clockwise rather than counterclockwise, the better to wedge feet into the grooves of sides-meeting-tub-bottom and avoid a fall.  That possibility was there all along, lurking in the shadows of understanding, just wanting to be found and appreciated.  Well, this morning I give it its due, long overdue.

The longer I stay in my little rented abode, the more I appreciate its willingness to snuggle down into my solipsism and make everything a home.  It greets me every morning offering the comfort of familiar as I enter my kitchen corner and reach for the levers of water power filling plastic vessels, hot as I can stand, one for soap, one for rinse, all conjured to make implements of sustenance clean and shiny to my touch.  I have learned to just turn the handles, not stand and growl at the unfairness of a world that makes me wash dishes when I would so much rather sit and write.  Turning the handles gives me good Cincinnati water that makes my kitchen sparkle.  The hot fluid warms my hands and assures me that these frothy bubbles float impurities away, reducing yesterday’s detritus to a flotilla of filth, gone, gone away.

You say that such spigots are part of your own solipsism and are nothing special.  I ask why you refuse to see the wonder in your own.  Your place is like none other because it is yours.  You are important and wonderful to me.  Turn your kitchen taps and be thankful for the technology developed over centuries of sapient experimentation that brought clear bright water to your very fingertips.  It celebrates every morning how powerful and important you are in a world of sentient beings.  And then go sit and write, and read what you have written to a group of scribbling primates.  We want to hear what you have thought and set to verse and knitted into prose.  We can celebrate together, agree and disagree, as tides of opinion ebb and flow.  As each and all of us ages and one by one falls off the roster of scribes, we can take joy in each special presence, present, and yes, even past.

Some delights are ordinary; some are spectacular.  All are life affirming.  Yesterday I fielded a comment on my blog that introduced a gentleman who knew what Acronymania* is all about.  He was able to bring me up to date about my work at TRW on NBCRS, having also worked with my old bosses, Bill King and Jack Cherne.  Last week I discovered that the savvy old guy in my bible study group, who shares my love for Robert Alter as Old Testament translator, is none other than Gordon Christenson, Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of the University of Cincinnati College of Law.  No wonder he speaks with eloquence and informed good sense.  Such discoveries make my head spin and my heart thunder.

Things keep happening to remind me of serendipitous truthiness.  Last fall my phone went bad like it always does when I venture into West Virginia.  When I returned to Ohio, it did its best but couldn’t engage its GPS, so I chose to duck into my son’s house and borrow his WIFI to urge my iPhone back into sentient service.  It worked.  Then I left and stupidly abandoned my purse on his living room couch.  My phone is so much smarter than I.

That senior moment required that I meet Lane and his sweetie the next day and retrieve the purse that contained all my credit cards, cash, and personal ID.  Lane set a time and place to meet: The Starbucks close to Northgate Mall.  When approaching the mall, I asked SIRI to find it for me, but all she would do was search, and search, and search…  The intersection of Colerain and US Route 275 is interesting enough, but how many times can you negotiate it before you begin to feel more than a bit foolish?

Finally I just gave up.  I rolled into an available parking lot and meandered about, turning the steering wheel wherever inspiration dictated.  I kept an eye out for the little green Starbucks Siren, but it was nowhere.  Finally, one set of turns put me into a parking area close to Colerain Avenue.  I hesitated, looked straight ahead, and there at eye level in six foot high green letters was STARBUCKS.  Not only that, but my peeling Highlander was lined up with the premiere parking space right at the front door.  It was empty and beckoning.  “Come hither,” it said.  “Park.”

Was that the serendipity that I love to blather about?  It keeps happening, assuring everything stays on track, toward what I don’t know.  But I’m glad it does.  Like deja vu, whenever it happens I assume I must be on my right path.  I pulled in to the space, locked the car, entered the coffee store, and ordered a decaf cappuccino.  No sooner had I sat down to wait than a dearly familiar male voice behind me said, “Mom?”

What I’m daring to suggest is that we, all of us, create our own realities out of where we find ourselves as physical manifestations.  There is considerable physics to support this wild possibility.  String theory talks about multiple universes that overlay and interlace each other.  Maybe they are created by you and by me as we swim in special realities, yours and mine and ours.

I continue to marvel at the somewhat agreed-upon stories shared among family members.  Everyone, it seems, has a slightly different remembrance of things past.  Trial lawyers and accident investigators speak of how differently various witnesses attest to what happened.  According to them, that is just an aspect of human nature.  What if it isn’t just faulty memory, but different lived experience?  What if in my universe things play out just a wee bit differently from what they do in yours?

Nothing just happens.  Is it some kind of cosmic happenstance that caused you and me to be living at this precise juncture in the construct of universal reality?  How was it that we came to be living beings at this nexus of what is?  If we could have chosen the most important century to inhabit, in the most influential polity on this third planet, given the most fascinating technological amazements ever to be achieved in the history of history, how could we have chosen better than here and now?  It’s a good time to be alive—as is every time— it seems.  There’s always a good reason to get out of bed.  We just have to be looking for it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(*)  Morethanenoughtruth.com/acronymania

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After what turned out to be a wild ride at American Hospital Supply, Ford Aerospace offered itself as the next best thing.  Ford had snagged the Divad (Divisional Air Defense) program contract and was the talk of the west coast.  I showed up, resume in hand, and signed on as a tool designer.  Remembering how much fun it was coming up with jigs and fixtures for Texas Instruments, it seemed like a fit.

A big Indian man (feathers, not dots) named Russ Arnold led the tool design group under Charles Underhill, Ford’s manufacturing czar.  Since the product design for Divad wasn’t yet out of the oven, we gathered every day and were told to demonstrate our facility for laying lead on vellum.  After a ridiculous week of burning taxpayer’s money, Mr. Underhill shepherded our entire group, twenty or more, into a conference room.  We glanced at each other, wondering if we were to be laid off en masse.  But that was not to be.  Out of Mr. Underhill’s own mouth thundered the announcement: “You are all, every one, to attend a two-week introduction to computer-aided-design at the Lockheed training facility.  No, this is not discretionary.  You must attend.  If you do not wish to be part of this opportunity, please gather your belongings and progress to HR where you will undertake your exit interview.

From my front row seat I couldn’t see how many guys departed forthwith, but there was a considerable stir as most of the old guys, and some of the younger ones as well, stomped out, muttering as they went.  I didn’t turn around and stare.  If it had been me taking that coward’s way out, I wouldn’t have appreciated eye-witnesses.  When the room settled down and all eyes again faced front, we heard about how drafting on a board was about to be no more.  All of technical graphics would soon be accomplished with a keyboard and viewed on a computer screen.  Anyone who was serious about our kind of work would have to accept this new turn of events.  We learned about when and where to attend, how to get to Lockheed, and were encouraged to think positive.

Lockheed was a nasty drive away from Irvine, with crazy traffic, and I had to leave home a good bit earlier than normal, but it was doable.  The thing was beginning to become an adventure, and that could be fun.  I got through security with not much ado.  They knew we were coming and let us through sporting shiny new badges.  Eventually we re-discovered each other as a group inside the training facility.  The teachers didn’t waste a lot of time telling us what they were going to do.  They just did it.  Each of us got a fat folder that looked like it might help.  It was a strange place with lots of cubbies, low lights, and everything was painted black.  Screens were big, bigger than I had ever seen.  Everybody got a cubby, and began to work through the manual of instruction.  Several teachers moved about the group answering questions and making sure we were progressing.

The work we were learning was called Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing, shortened to Cadam.  It was a mainframe system, so everything we did was stored somewhere far away, and we had to be sure we saved our work before we signed off or it was lost forever.  The keyboard was just like any qwerty board, but every setup was equipped with a wand for touching the screen.  It was freaky to interact directly with a screen, but what did I know having never used a computer?  The wand was a bit heavy and attached to a cable that protruded from its end.  The contraption was weighty, and to this very day, my right shoulder reminds me about how weighty, especially when it rains.

The instructors were savvy about their subject and patient with our inadequacies.  Only one guy seemed to take joy from his position as holder of superior knowledge.  I put up with him for several days before I finally lost it.  He tutored, armed at all times with a telescoping metal pointer.  In a small cubby such aggressive hardware seemed superfluous when an index finger was literally on hand.  He often got carried away with his tutelage and used the stick to emphasize points and assure attention, often turning to me to shake his pointer in my face.  One morning he began to rattle his stick too close to my nose.  I stood it as long as I could.  Then I grabbed it and bent it.  “Get that thing out of my face,” I hissed, teeth bared.  His face and eyes said aghast.  I figured that bit of self-expression had cost me my job, but some things aren’t negotiable.  He cleared his throat, set aside his weapon, and the lesson resumed.  That guy’s pointer was seen no more, and my fellow students swore me a debt of gratitude.  Sometimes you just have to stick up for yourself.

Our two-week class was soon over.  Russ Arnold called me into his office.  I figured this was me getting my walking papers for insubordination.  It turns out the Lockheed Training Manager had called to ask why the only woman Ford had sent wasn’t slated for the advanced session since she had ended up being the best of the group.  I felt a grin creep right across my face.  Russ’s eyes twinkled.  “You’re signed up for the advanced session—two more weeks.”  I was out of there, packing my briefcase and high-tailing it for Lockheed.

 Back from our Cadam training, we tool designers were hot to trot.  We were told to keep busy drawing whatever we could find to draw.  (More money to burn.) The advanced class had taught us how to construct various projections, and popping out isographic renderings was my favorite way to kill time while we waited for the Divad design to sort itself out.  Weeks turned to months.  Rumors passed over the wall from Product Design;  there were problems.  One day we heard that at the Final Design Review something went wrong.  The target-seeking-missile from the Divad equipped armored personnel carrier ignored the designated target and blew up the fan in the general’s port-a-potty.  It was a disaster.  Some people, loyal to Ford, stayed.  I can’t imagine why.  The rest of us were down the road looking for what came next. 

Henry was indeed good with automobiles, but something had gotten lost in the translation to military aerospace.  I have sweet memories of that year spent learning Cadam and reminding myself that good things can happen in spite of the bad.  It was indeed a good thing that the general wasn’t in the can when it blew.  It’s a good thing to know when to cut bait and run, and Johnson & Johnson was right up the freeway—hiring.  It was a time to be stuck on Band-Aids.

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Having read yet another chapter of Peter Strzok’s tell-all story of the Russia investigation, I was warming to the over-filled hot water bottle at my feet and relaxing into the nights version of flannel pajamas snuggling legs as they sought consolation of warmth against what was becoming a chill gathering of winter.  I fumbled for the switch that would put out the reading lamp, found it at last, and turned it with a satisfying click.  Dark.  Lovely darkness congealed to comfort after a long day of sorting light from multitudinous sources that must be parsed and resolved.  It was a war—a lovely war— but one that must be fought in honor of the light and the radiant seeing of it.  I smiled, closed my eyes, and resigned myself to the sleep of the innocent.

That was ten of the clock.  At eleven-thirty eyelids popped up—nothing to see—but much to hear.  There it was—that scrabbling rasp of claw on crisp something-or-other.  It had been a feature of the deep night since October had brought cold with encroaching winter and had sent woodland critters searching for warmer berths.  One must have chosen my kitchen and had eluded my attempts at entrapment.  A trip to Ace Hardware notwithstanding, my persistent unwelcome guest continued to ravage my larder.  It ignored mousetraps armed with succulent cheddar and went on to bigger and better possibilities.  In spite of my warm cocoon, shivers raced down my spine.  Time for action!

I slid from under covers, slithered into slippers, and tiptoed into kitchen where moonlight illuminated a yawning trash receptacle that was shuddering, and not with delight.  It was under attack by some unidentified life form.  Reaching back through my genetic inheritance to my time as hunter-gatherer, I acted.  In two bold leaps I slammed the lid shut.  What luck that it had begun the night ajar, an inadvertent open enticement for possible marauders!  Something thrashed about inside the enclosure, slamming against the lid as I held it closed, reaching for something heavy to keep it shut.  The weightiest thing I could find with only one free hand was Robert Alter’s translation of the first five books of Moses with commentary.  It worked fine.  Adding two more tomes just in case, I stood back and wondered, now what

There will be no sleep this night, I mused.  The trashcan/book-stack shook as an unidentified body crashed, leaped, thrust, and thundered in what must be described as wrath.  How could I sleep with all that going on in the adjoining room?  The thing to do was to remove the problem.  I bundled into my trusty barn coat, the one I had used many times before to hustle horses into their proper behavior and placement, if not attitude.

It was at the witching hour that I rolled my accommodating little trash container out the front door, yet book bedecked, and set it still aquiver on my front porch, there to await the dawning.  Mr. Sun cleared the horizon right on time, but I missed his glorious arrival, so sound asleep was I after having spent all my adrenaline the night before.  At nine o’clock I jumped out of the bed, dressed for cold, and headed out the front door, not having even polished teeth.  By then the wild thing must surely have been dead as a proverbial doornail, I chuckled with anticipatory glee and gathered Moses’ books and the other fat tomes that had shared the lonely night with Alter.  The container sat still and silent.  No movement hinted at life having survived the frigid hours that presaged the icy dawn.  I lifted the lid and peeked in.  Nothing stirred.  There was just a wrinkly lump of shredded white polyethylene garbage bag at the bottom. Nudging the container resuscitated a ball of fur and claws and whipping tail, lurching from under the plastic and looking to attack whosoever had given it so inhospitable a berth.  But I, too, was up for the fight.  I slammed the lid shut, restacked the books, and went inside to telephone Maintenance.

A previous era would have presented The Lone Ranger astride his trusty horse Silver, but in 2020 it was Dan the Maintenance Man who came to the rescue soon after my frantic call for backup.  Satisfying himself that what we had was indeed a rat, he went to find a bucket—a big one.  He asked to fill it from my bathtub faucet, a spot that required he pass by my illegal installation of a bidet.  My unauthorized plumbing had rendered even friendly Dan an adversary.  I held my breath, but he didn’t seem to notice.  Then with almost three gallons of water we proceeded to do what must be done, but I hesitated.  Consider the rat.  It too was a mammal, a cousin of my own lineage.  It might even be a she rat, with babes awaiting her return.  It wasn’t her fault that she was born a rodent.  Even a rat must eat and keep warm.

But empathy aside I assured myself, we must exterminate this rat.  They carry disease.  We already have Coronavirus, and don’t need Plague to keep it company.  Dan the Man was good, but he had only two hands.  He needed four.  One held the can still while he jousted, keeping the creature at bay inside the container.  It fell to me, with my eighty-two year old arms and shoulders to lift and pour the water into the vessel.  Dan kept the critter pinned and submerged while we held a respectful silence.  Even a rat deserves a prayerful leave-taking.

A hole in the bottom, where the clever mechanism’s rod passed through plastic to allow a foot to raise lid for incoming discards, allowed water level to gradually recede like a dam’s lock that slowly lowers everything to proper level.  In unison we breathed relieved sighs as all our four eyes peered into the evacuated vessel.  There at the bottom, in a peaceful sleep of repose, lay the rat.  It had been all about attitude.  Without the furious mood elevation of rage, he was like any napping child, full of gentility and sweetness.  While last night’s fear had enlarged my perception of the creature to terrifying proportions, this altered reality presented nothing but a small furry body at peace.  I breathed a silent prayer: Please forgive me.  If we meet again in some future life, I’ll be the rat—you be the avenger.

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