I would have loved to have met Joe Delaney.

 

Finding Joe’s place was dumb luck, really. Most of my attention had been given to the spectacularly rocky coastline of western Nova Scotia. I spotted the hand-lettered sign on the landward side of the road. It bore a cartoonlike head and the legend “Masque Acadie,” and saw what looked like a hundred or so scarecrows staging a demonstration in a field.

 

These are the sorts of things one should not resist.

 

“Back in 1984, my father tried raising a garden here, but the animals, the deer and the rabbits, ate everything up,” said his daughter, Ethel, who had opened a take-out diner and souvenir shop in a converted mobile home at the site of her father’s creation. “So, some neighbors said to my father, why do not you build some scarecrows and keep them away? So, he had some junk sitting around, so he made three, each about six feet tall.”

 

Joe used old clothes, Halloween masks, strips of bright plastic, and a lot of imagination.

 

The morning after the scarecrows went up, two tour buses and several cars stopped while Joe was tending his garden. Some people came out, told him they really liked the scarecrows, and took pictures.

 

“By the end of the summer, he had a dozen scarecrows,” said Ethel.

 

I poked around the little gift shop, and bought a tiny cup of coffee from her. She handed me the change. Ethel said she and Paul opened the little business two years after the tourists started showing up.

 

She wore a lot of makeup, with her eyebrows outlined carefully, the heavy black lines of the pencil leaving an oblong hollow. Ethel was an expressive speaker, and her eyebrows moved a lot. It was hard not to stare.

 

A couple of cars stopped. The people got out, took a few snapshots, dropped a few coins in the collection box that had a little sign saying the money was for the upkeep of Joe’s scarecrows, and drove away. I thought about buying some scarecrow postcards, but changed my mind. I am very cheap.

 

“The year after, he had 30 scarecrows, and the tourists kept coming,” said Ethel, her eyebrows sending semaphore signals of their own. “He had a little workshop out in the back, in the old bus, where he kept making more.”

 

Joe had died of lung cancer about two years earlier, Ethel said.

 

“He was doing real good right up until the end,” said Ethel, in accented English that told me she was more accustomed to French. “Then he got sick and we took him to the ‘ospital, and in just a little while ‘e was gone.”

 

In front of Ethel’s little take-out was one of those bright-colored windmill things, a propeller to catch breeze attached to a mechanism that made a little wooden silhouette of a woodsman make chopping motions with an ax. The blade kept hitting against the novelty’s frame. A stiff breeze blew in from the shore on the other side of the road. The little lumberjack chopped in a frenzy, a little toy maniac in the wind.

 

The same year that Ethel’s take-out went in; a vandal struck one night, destroying all but one of Joe’s scarecrows, whom Joe had named Rory. Ethel, her eyebrows rigid with indignation, said she knows who did it, but has no proof.

 

“It was a man who lives down the road, he left a bar that night after he got drunk and got in a fight. He comes in here sometimes, and I just look at him,” she said.

 

Joe wrote an account of the vandalism as though written by Rory as an eyewitness. The piece was published in one of the area newspapers. After it ran, a lot of people gave Joe money and old clothes so he could recreate his scarecrows. Today, there are about 100.

 

“We put’em away in the winter and bring’em back out in the spring,” Ethel and her eyebrows said. “We try to keep’em looking nice for people.”

 

The collection of U.S. president scarecrows looked a little tattered, but then, so does the office. There were scarecrows sawing logs, scarecrows playing fiddles. Most of them, however, stood in the traditional scarecrow pose, legs spread slightly, arms straight out at the sides, heads staring straight ahead or, sometimes tilted back, staring at the heavens. These latter looked as though they were either praying intensely, or asking God, “Why me?”

 

There were no scarecrows created to look like God providing answers, though there were a couple that looked like they could be televangelists.

 

Somewhere along the way, Ethel said, Joe forgot about the garden. He wasn’t around to ask why he simply kept making scarecrows, even to the exclusion of the garden they were designed to protect. Ethel, her eyebrows arching with pride, said her father’s scarecrows draw 20,000 to 30,000 tourists a year.

 

That’s a lot of coffee, meat pies, muffins, and postcards.

 

But I am not certain. Sure, that’s what keeps Paul and Ethel solvent, but I do not think money was Joe’s first consideration. I looked at the little photo Ethel kept of him, standing out by his workshop. There was a definite impishness in those eyes. I think Joe just kept building scarecrows and putting them out, just to see how many tourists he could lure in. I have a funny feeling he went to his grave bemused at the public’s apparently endless appetite for cute.

 

I finished my coffee, and threw the thimble-sized styrene cup into the trash. Ethel thanked me. Her eyebrows seemed to have dozed off.

 

“Come back and see us again,” she said.

 

I climbed into my van. The crazed lumberjack was taking a breather. A woman over among the scarecrows excitedly asked her husband, he of the white patent leather shoes and matching belt, to take a picture of her standing next to Ronald Reagan. I started the engine and left. A guy can only take so much culture in one dose.

 

==================================

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It was not a very large cemetery, tucked away between the back end of a large brick church and a row of some houses that had seen better days.

 

There were no grand mausoleums, no pigeon-anointed angels atop granite columns, waving their swords and managing to look at the same time fierce and slightly distracted, as though they had just wondered where they had put their car keys.

 

This was a narrow rectangle of graves, 30 or 40 of them, of men, women and children buried during the years between the American Revolution and two decades before the American Civil War.

 

The church of which these sheep had been the flock had long ago moved to larger and more grandiose quarters a few blocks away. It has since changed its name. The old building is gone. All that remains are the stones, and the whispers of the names they bore.

 

I was there, as usual, because there was bad news. A number of the headstones seem to have been broken, cast down shattered on the grass the night before my visit by person or persons unknown.

 

Probably the latter. Thugs like that rarely act alone, as they need one another to crank their courage up.

 

Plainly, this was not the first time it had happened. While many of the broken surfaces shone white and new, as many more were old, weathered. It seems that these dead have been an affront to someone for a very long time.

 

It is hard to imagine why. The victims were all, by now, a thin stratum of darker soil in the surrounding clay and shale. On the stones, most of their names had been eroded by time and weather into vague ciphers. On some, the names were plain, but the dates, those points on the continuum between which the stories of their lives unfolded, were obliterated.

 

On those that are legible, the dates gave a much more careful accounting of that time than we are used to in the late 20th century. Joseph Heagy, we learn, for example, died in 1844, having lived exactly 63 years, seven months, and 17 days.

 

Another stone gives a hint of what may have been a wrenching story. Mary, wife of Ludnik, died on Sept. 14 of 1804. Ludnik, still at her side, died two days later.

 

These are people, I thought as I walked in the perfect autumn day, who lived in the tumult between the birth of the nation and the times that nearly tore it apart. It was a time of high passion, but they and their passions were by now dust and whispers. So why the anger? Why the fractured markers?

 

I stopped and looked again over the field of fallen stones, amused at myself. This had nothing to do with the vanished remains, or the people who had once worn the names etched in the marble and shale. Here, I had assumed the culprits had a reason. I had assumed that the spate of vandalism had been the result of something reasoned through, a solution to a problem.

 

Silly me.

 

This was, I reminded myself, a simple skirmish between order and chaos.

 

It was a fight between life and the vast, endless darkness on either side of it.

 

I suppose there is no better reminder of that final blackness than a tombstone, standing there solid, part of which bore the inscription “The Last Brick Wall you will ever hit.” Maybe that is where the anger comes from, a sudden despair that your brief moments above ground will mean nothing and your end even less.

 

I tucked my notebook in my hip pocket and stowed my pen, walking back toward my car. My anger at the vandalism had not abated, but alongside had grown a little understanding, and perhaps a little sympathy. The idea that you do not matter and will not be missed when you go is a painful one, I know.

 

If kicking over memorials to the forgotten dead is the best idea you can come up with as a stance against that great, crushing anonymity, you had better get used to being a nobody.

Angels in Stone

October 12, 2016

 

Of Angels in the Stone

Adapted from a column published in the Gettysburg Times on Dec. 2, 1989.

 

The man was not old, but weathered, like a well-used hoe.

He had come into the office of the concrete plant where I worked to buy sand for a project “back to the house.”

He dug the money for his purchase out of a ragged leather wallet that he must have bought when Ike was still in office. I think some of the money had been in there that long, too.

“How much?” he asked.

I put down the book I had been reading. I have forgotten the title, but it was about human evolution. The volume lay open on the computer console in front of me.

On the page, a row of skulls stared vacantly outward, with the cranium belonging to the oldest member of the human family discovered to that point on one side, and modern man’s vaulted white dome on the other, with assorted way stops lined up between.

It was one of those rainy days, late in the Georgia summer, when business was slow, and there was time to talk, to do things at an idle pace. We weren’t busy anyway; several days of rain had turned the Georgia clay into something like pudding. I had sent most of the drivers home.

I looked up the price of that particular grade of sand, added the tax and gave him the total. He counted out the exact amount, digging in his bib overalls for the change. He leaned against the door-frame and lit up a cigarette.

“Wet,” he noted.

“Yeah,” I replied, “not much going on.”

He was as dry as beef jerky, impervious to the rain. The daylight pouring in through the office window wrapped around him in the same way that lamplight embraces wood that has been carved into shape and oiled.

His eyes drifted to the book, the skulls looking back from the page like the portraits of family members in an old home.

“That there about evolution?” he asked, giving the first letter the sound of a long “e.”

“Uh oh,” I thought, nodding in assent.

“You believe in that there?”

“Yessir, I do,” I answered. “Do you?”

“Surely do not,” he said, new steel rising in his voice. “I believe unto the Lord, and unto His Word.”

I was a little more than halfway through my university study, and a little bit more than half arrogant. I knew things. I believed in things that I could see and feel and smell.

“Look here,” I said. “You see those pictures there. Those are skulls, real ones. A long time ago there was meat on those skulls, and brains in them. Something or someone lived in there. Do you believe that?”

“Yessir, I believe that. They’re real, all right.”

I stood and picked up the book, excited. Perhaps I was going to make a convert. Perhaps, having stepped into the swampy world of Religion Vs. Science, I may have managed to win an argument.

Silly me.

I pointed out to him what little I thought I knew for certain regarding the evolution of human and pre-human anatomy. I talked about progressively larger brain cavities, different jaw structures, flatter faces, flipping pages in the book as I spoke. I felt flushed with power.

“So, can’t you see that there seems to be a definite progression in these, from the oldest to the modern?”

He agreed that it seemed to be so.

“Do not you agree, then, that these creatures were real, and that they may possibly have been our ancestors?”

“No sir, I can’t accept that,” he said, the gray light from outside enhancing the lines and angles of his craggy face. “They are not ours.”

He took a long drag off his cigarette. The smoke hung around his head, something else obscuring the air between us.

“Well, if they are not our forebears,” I said, a little exasperated, “who are they? What are these bones?”

“They are the bones of fallen angels,” he said.

The air rushed out of my lungs, the way it does when one unexpectedly steps waist-deep into frigid water.

I think about that man now and then, with his measuring eyes and his hard hands. Sometimes I see him in my mind as clearly as I saw him in that doorway all those years ago.

I think about him sometimes when I am plodding my way through court records, preparing to cover the trial of accused rapists, child molesters, murderers and drug dealers.

We are influenced by thousands of unseen forces, my more-or-less educated mind tells me. We are the products of our environment, of our heritage, social and genetic. We create our own Hells.

The man in the doorway stares through smoke. “I believe unto The Lord, and unto His Word,” he says.

Like anyone else, I want the world to make sense. Things can be explained, dissected, explored, named. Give me a thing I can name and the name will make most of the fear disappear like smoke.

I say this sometimes with the assurance of the man in the doorway, a man worn by toil and as set in his convictions as a post is set in the ground.

And sometimes I say it with the shrill bravado of a small boy whistling his way through a dark graveyard.

Usually, reason wins. But now and then I find myself in an interview across a table from someone who seems made of wood, shaped from something no longer living, dead in some sense that goes beyond sensibility.

In times like those, I sometimes see him again, drawing fire to his mouth, speaking through smoke, in the doorway to a world where angels could fall bereft of God to crash into the cold stones of the world, and I wonder which one of us has found the best answer.

 

I knew right away I was going to like Nate Nicholls when I saw his yard.

I was sightseeing in 2005 on some of the back roads in the area of Maine where I like to vacation, and there it was, inhabited by guys leaning on shovels, giant chickadees, giraffes, assorted frogs, cactus, oversized flowers, and the odd dragon or two.

Everything was made out of junk, scrap metal, propane tanks, rakes, shovels, railroad spikes, nuts, bolts, lengths of rebar, this and that.

I whipped the car onto the shoulder and walked around some, taking photos, hoping the owner would show, but he wasn’t home.

But there was a big, hand-lettered sign. The sign said that the township is telling him that no business in the township can have items for sale unless they are screened from view. So, his sign says, nothing you can see there is for sale. Unless, that is, you look at it through a screen. He provides the screen, of course, a square of framed wire mesh that he made himself.

“Ok,” I said to myself. “I GOTTA meet this guy.”

The next day, I did.

Nate Nicholls was no trained artist. He was a high school dropout, then 43, who eked out a living harvesting and processing wild Maine blueberries, doing odd jobs, and from the occasional sale of a piece of his art.

Turns out, he was born only about 50 miles from where I live, in Lancaster, Pa. He was married and lived with his family in a white wood frame house adjacent to his workshop and his, well, it’s hard to say what it is. Display area, museum, and storage lot. Prop lot for some very strange stage production. Something like that.

Nate, who had collected mostly metal junk for his hobby for years, got serious about welding and bolting odds and ends of stuff together after his mother died about three years before I met him.

“She was artistic. After she passed, I just felt like I had to do something, and this is where it went,” he said.

He also said he got a little ticked off with the local government because they told him he couldn’t keep all that junk in his yard.

“So, I started welding stuff together, and called it art. I said, ‘now it’s art, what are you going to do now?’ “

He said the township didn’t like him very much.

Nate’s prices were arbitrary. He had a steel sheep he made and set the price at $6,000, because he’d seen one made by a famous sculptor priced at that figure.

“And my sheep looks more realistic,” he said with obvious pride.

The sheep, I had to admit, looked pretty darned real. OK, it looked like a sheep in chain mail, but this is art, right? The convention/menagerie in Nicholl’s yard includes people of all shapes and sizes, an elephant, giraffe, one whole red and orange dragon perhaps 10 feet tall hatching babies out of propane tank ‘eggs,’ parts of several other dragons, a self-portrait of the artist, one squid, one octopus, a pair of tiny dogs made from car springs that I would swear were modeled after a pair of miniature poodles I know, any number of birds, lizards…all made from old gears, snowmobile mufflers (great for peacocks and pelican bodies, as it happens,) nuts, bolts, pitchforks, shovels, picks, shears, screwdrivers and chain-link fence.

Nate said he spent a lot of time in scrap yards, and sometimes people just bring stuff for him. One fellow, I believe, provided a couple of tons of railroad spikes, which have evolved into hundreds of tiny figures romping, dancing and marching around Nate’s five-acre property.

Sadly, Nate is not making any more fanciful creatures.

One July day he was welding a small metal frog when his heart failed. He was rushed to the hospital in Damariscotta, but nothing could be done to bring him back. His kids had him cremated and buried his cremains in his sculpture garden, and covered his grave with bouquets of flowers made from gaily-painted flowers fashioned from outdoor spigot handles.

I make a point to stop at Nate’s on every visit to Maine. Sometimes I chat with his son Josh, who lives in the big old house, and sometimes chat with his daughter, Alissa, on Facebook.

Like many artist’s Nate’s life stared back at us from his work. He once had a run-in with the state highway department. They said his stuff was too close to the road. He countered by listing a number of more usual businesses on the same highway who keep their products as close or closer. In honor of the dispute, Nate built a highway department guy leaning on his shovel, a stumpy cigar stuck between his teeth and a woman giving him hell about something.

To celebrate his warm relationship with his township, Nate has a figure carrying a skull around on a platter. He said the head represents a figure from the local government who is sometimes a pain in the butt.

The biggest problem Nate had, aside from his hassles with the local and state government, is that he gets attached to each piece, knows the story behind every part of it, who brought him this spring, that doohickie, and what inspired him to make it. It’s sweet, but it doesn’t help his cash flow.

“I can’t mass produce these things, but if I have only one of a piece, I can’t sell it. And of my very favorite pieces, I can hardly bring myself to sell them at all,” he said.

He did sell stuff, though. He picked up a turtle made of railroad spikes, its shell made from old steel nuts welded together. It was about eight inches across. He said he makes them pretty often, because people walk onto his property and offer him a hundred bucks for one.

He said he figures he could get $10,000 for the 10-foot-tall red-and-orange dragon, babies and eggs included.

At his memorial service Alissa read from a poem Nate left behind:

There really isn’t much difference
between this old man
and a chunk of rusty mooring chain.
I grow weak
from both the weathering of time
and the brine of existence.

Since Nate’s death, his kids have moved some of the sculptures around. Some of the pieces have been stolen, but they are doing the best they can on a limited budget. They want to maintain Nate’s Recycleart Garden Gallery and the garden for as long as they can. The garden is free and open to the public, and they want to keep it that way.
Recycleart sculpture garden and studio
https://www.facebook.com/recyclesculptor

http://recyclesculptor.com/

Ghosts in the River

January 1, 2012

Ghosts on the River

Three days before the year’s end, and the weather had turned suddenly colder.

Scattered fat snowflakes darted through the scrub oaks clinging to the steep banks of the Shenango River in western Pennsylvania, a 100-mile long tributary of the Beaver that eventually flows into the Mississippi River.

Shenango means “pretty one.”

My brother, David, and I joked that if we believed in ghosts, our mother’s would be down there on the marshes along of the Shenango, gigging frogs with her dad, a rough, hard-drinking steelworker.

At our feet, on the heights above the river, were the headstones of our mother and father. Dad was buried there in 1981, Mom just a little more than a year ago.

Neither of their lives or deaths was particularly easy. But all that’s done, now.

Water, flowing water, has always held me fascinated. I grew up in northeast Georgia, along the Oconee, whose name is a corruption of the Creek word meaning “born from water.”

The Oconee’s waters tumble down over the fall line to join the Ocmulgee to become the Altamaha and finally the Atlantic.

I now live in southern Pennsylvania along Marsh Creek, which joins with Rock Creek to become the Monacacy, which flows into the Potomac. The heights between Marsh and Rock creeks were the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. Bullets and other martial debris show up in the farm field behind our house.

The thing about rivers and creeks is that they seem from moment to moment to be fixtures, but in truth they are never the same. Blink and you missed something, something that will find its way to the eternal time-sink of the sea. So they are at once symbols of opportunities lost and of hope. That’s how I think of it, anyway.

David still lives a short walk from Born from Water.

We don’t get here often. It’s a long haul for me, and a longer one for him. Visits to our mother’s sister bring us back, and we always make the trek to Riverside Cemetery. I don’t know how often we would get back if not for her.

This is our first trip back since Mom’s ashes were interred over Dad’s grave.

I will not speak for David, but I usually spend an hour or so sitting on Grandpa George’s headstone, gazing over the tops of my parents’ stones, down toward the river.

I am not there for them. There’s nothing beneath the assorted Burger and Miller stones but ash and the odd discarded mechanical parts, the odd bone or set of dentures.

I go there to address memories, good, bad, indifferent, sometimes surprising, things I had forgotten. I speak, sometimes out loud, about this or that. Long ago, there was not a little anger, as I worked through things as I aged.

I’m in my sixties now. The anger is gone, dispersed by understanding, nubbed by weariness, and sometimes by no longer giving a damn. There were ordinary people, flawed, beat down and badgered by their own past. Who am I to be angry?

I leaned against the big oak above the graves. The wind was picking up, the flakes coming more heavily.

In a few weeks The Pretty One will be frozen over. In the old days, there were spots where you could drive a car over it. In recent decades, the winters have been thinner, meaner, somehow.

David and I climbed back into the car and wove our way through the steel-town blackened gothic stones and back into the end-of-the-year bustle of town, leaving The Pretty One counting down the moments to winter.

On a recent rainy Tuesday, I paid a visit to some fossilized bits of dinosaur and one of the people who discovered the bits.

“Bits” here being used advisedly: These bits were small compared to the critter they came from, but pretty doggone big to the rest of us.

The dinosaur debris belonged to one or more individuals of a species called Alamosaurus sanjuanensis, brought out of the New Mexican desert by Robert Sullivan, senior curator in paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Sullivan has spent his summers for the past 30 years working the dinosaur bone-yards in the blank spots on the map to the northwest of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It is hot, hard work, and the teams are small, only two or three people from each sponsoring group, in this case, The University of Montana’s Museum of the Rockies, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. That means that only a small number of fossils per season can be dug out of their surrounding stone, prepared, and carried out in knapsacks or on stretchers. It’s got to be something you believe in.

 I am trying to remember how we ever really believed in dinosaurs until the movie Jurassic Park came out. And yet, we did. Even when all we had to rely on were drawings and paintings in National Geographic, the clunky “claymation” monsters in bad science-fiction films, and, of course, our own fevered imaginations, we believed.

I’m no spring chicken, and dinosaurs thundered around in my imagination as long ago as I can remember, without benefit of full-size, full-color, bellowing digital versions of the creatures. I have to guess that people working in the field today spent time as children looking out over a pasture or into a murky forest and imagined vast shadows moving, shaking the ground with each step.

Maybe they still do, looking up from editing research papers, imagining they just caught a shudder of vibration running through the heating ducts, a furtive rustle in the shrubbery outside.

Computer Generated Imagery in films like Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life, starting with the first film in 1993, and several times since in sequels with increasingly lame plots and acting. Well, for the humans, anyway. The acting on the part of the digital dinosaurs seemed top-notch, at least in my book.

With the advent of CGI, the monsters moved with a spontaneity that made one want to sit astride their lumbering backs, or run away squealing. On the other hand, I wonder if seeing them so apparently real has damaged our ability to imagine them. I hope not. We believed, back in those technologically deprived days, because we needed to. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a need to believe in vast and dramatic lives in a time so distant it implied a hope in a world after our own. Maybe, for those of still children and feeling insignificant and powerless, it was good to populate our spirits with beasts so big as to be undeniable, unstoppable, and inexpressively awesome.

Alamosaurus is a pretty big deal. For one thing, it’s simply just damned BIG. Two of the recovered pieces are vertebrae, one from back around the beastie’s hips, the other from the lower part of its long, long neck.

The remaining piece is a little less than half of an Alamosaurus’ thigh bone. It’s nearly four feet long, meaning that this bone, from knee to hip, was eight feet long and more than a foot thick.

Bob wouldn’t speculate on the animal’s size because this particular type – long-necked and –tailed herbivore that ambled around on four legs – came in a variety of models that might have enough variation to make scientific guesses about its length, weight, etcetera, just that…guesses.

Even so, the University of Montana put out a graphic showing an estimated comparison between a generalized Alamosaurus and a typical full-grown human male. The other silhouette is a representation of one of the vertebrae found at the New Mexico site.

Feel humbled? You should. The Alamosaurus was one of the biggest creatures ever to walk on land, though there was another, similar herbivore, Argentinosaurus, which was slightly larger. Full-grown, Alamosaurus was more-or-less the length of an Amtrak passenger car.

Nobody has yet found the skull of an Alamosaurus, so nobody can say for sure what it looked like. It likely had a brain the size of a tangerine, so if it were around today it could probably run for public office.

There are a lot of reasons we can be grateful that the real dinosaurs are long gone, I suppose. On the one hand, I really do enjoy picturing one lumbering through the field across the road from my house, chomping and belching its way through the soybeans.

On the other hand, I think keeping something the size of a city bus out of my tomato patch would be a major pain.

A REALLY GOOD DAY

June 23, 2011

By T.W. Burger

It is hard to say just what makes one day more perfect than the other.

 

One day can be sunny and clear and in every aspect fine, but only run-of-the-mill fine.

 

The great thing about being a member of a species that lives longer than a mayfly, for example, is that most of us have an opportunity to have enough days and nights that we can compare one to the other, or at least note that one particular day has something that another lacked.

 

Or, maybe I just have too much time on my hands.

 

But, there it was. You just knew, in the way the rolling fields of timothy waved in the breeze on either side of Pumping Station Road, a scenic drive I normally would not normally take except as a detour.

 

The new bridge going up on the main road pushed me to this longer route, and most days I’m glad of it, except when I’m rushed.

 

I drove slowly, waving more impatient, and presumably more important, drivers around me, and ignored their scowls. I drove with the windows down, slowly enough to hear the breeze in the grass, and the rusty-hinge song of the redwing blackbirds.

 

Nearby, a man on a riding mower buzzed his lawn, an flying circus of barn swallows dive-bombing the bugs he stirred up. He seemed oblivious to the acrobatics of the birds, intent on making each row perfectly straight. There’s a parable there, I think; sometimes we pay close attention to all the wrong things.

 

But the day was too perfect for ponderous thoughts. Let the man keep his rows geometrical while a squadron of swallows filigreed the air. His loss.

 

Back home on the deck, a half mug of single malt at hand, I sat with my journal as the trees on both sides of the creek poured out cheeps and chirps, as their populations of songbirds held forth on their thoughts about the day’s proceedings, or on seed futures, or whatever they talk about at twilight, fidgeting from branch to twig, looking for a place to alight and settle as the shadows lengthen.

 

The leafy treetops flared in the setting sun, their green growing deeper closer to the busy ground below. Deer stirred in their thickets, preparing to make their clockwork trek from here to there on ancient paths now intersected with paved roads, and the predators slipped out, stretched, sniffed the air seeking prey that is not quite fast enough.

 

The leaves of the oak, hickory and maple waved coquettishly in the breeze, and I think I may have been a little drunk, but unsure whether it was the scotch or the day. I decided it was a little of both.

 

When it became dark enough that I could no longer see to write, I put away the pen, closed the journal. The trees across the creek had been reduced to jagged outlines against the pewter dusk, the air pestered by a convention of grackles griping about this and that, as they do.

 

Good smells drifted through the screen door from the kitchen, and I gathered up my things and moved indoors. The day wass gone, like thousands of others in my sixty-odd years. A real keeper, too.

           

 

© 2011 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

 

 

Logan

January 16, 2011

The email came through over my phone as I was driving home from an assignment Wednesday night. Logan was dead.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and sat there for a few minutes.

Logan was just 20, the son of a good friend from a lifetime ago, one of those friends you keep, and feel close to, even if you rarely ever see them.

David and I became friends while we were both at the University of Georgia, back in the 70s. He studied marketing and communications. I didn’t really study much of anything. We had a lot of good times together, and what bad times there might have been never mattered.

David and Logan came and visited us in Gettysburg six years ago. Logan was 14, and had taken an interest in the Amish, and the trip gave the two of them some quality father-and-son time on the long drive north from Atlanta.

The four of us piled into my van and were off to the back roads of Lancaster County. We tried to avoid the touristy places. We had a great time. Somewhere, I have photos. It was a good enough time that I realized what I had missed, never raising a son.

Logan went to military school, then high school and started college. He was a member of the swim and lacrosse teams and coached another swim team. He was also a wrestler. His Facebook page shows him, fit and buff, in high-energy hijinks with lots of friends, and being cozied up to by an enviable number of attractive young women.

And then, about a year and a half ago, Logan wasn’t feeling well. He went into the hospital for some tests. The diagnosis was leukemia.

Logan and his family fought the disease like Apaches, relentlessly seeking blood and marrow donors, doing everything they could. I think it was almost enough.

On Logan’s Facebook page is one photo very different from the others. He is standing outside, holding the German shepherd puppy he got in October, when the docs told him that his cancer was gone. He looked like a concentration camp survivor. I kept flicking from that photo to the earlier ones, unbelieving. Surely that’s not the same person?

But it was, and he was cancer-free and on his way to recovery, even beginning to eat solid food.

And then, five days before Christmas, Logan and his family learned that the cancer was back. This time, there were no more treatment options. Everything that could have been done had been done. Logan went home to his mother’s house.

The docs said he had days, months at the most.

David said that when the leukemia came back, “It was almost as if it was pissed off.” It charged in full bore, ravaging Logan’s already weakened defenses. Tuesday night, it ended.

I sat there in my car, traffic hissing by on the wet highway, looking at my cell phone as though it might offer helpful suggestions. I spent 25 years as a reporter, calling families and friends of people who had died from long battles with terrible diseases, from injuries received in crashes, some of them on that very highway, or had died from gunshots and knife wounds. It’s something reporters have to do. They don’t like it, but they do it. It’s part of the job.

And here I couldn’t call one of my oldest friends and talk about the death of his son. This wasn’t an effort to flesh out a name in a police report or an obituary. This was somebody I knew, who was going through something that words really don’t cover. Words are what I do for a living, and yet I found none to use.

I dialed the number anyway. Dave picked up.

“Dave? It’s Terry,” I said. “I just got your email…”

Frankly, I don’t remember what I said, and I wouldn’t share the words if I did. It was personal, in a way few other things are. I hope the words conveyed what I felt, at least a little. There are some things that words just can’t accomplish.

I remember in one of my favorite episodes of “The West Wing,” after the senseless death of Pres. Bartlett’s beloved friend and personal secretary. Bartlett asked to be left alone in the cathedral, and spent a few minutes blaspheming and giving God hell, and called him a “feckless thug.”

It’s one of the things I have always envied in believers, that occasionally they can bristle and fume and the one in charge. I don’t have anybody at which to curse. But I can definitely be angry.

NOTE: Should you be so inclined, contributions can be sent to the Atlanta Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at www.lls.org or call 1-800-399-7312. Logan also requested that his friends register to be bone marrow donors at the Be The Match Registry at www.bethematch.org or call 1-800-Marrow-2.

 

 

 

 

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© 2011 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

Kicking Back

October 5, 2010

A new fire crackles in the Franklin stove, armor against the growing chill.

The writing-for-money stuff has been put away for the day. Time to relax.

This little working harbor with its tiny fleet of lobster boats and a few pleasure craft lie quiet under an overcast sky. The bell buoy at the harbor mouth tolls over and over, promising an unquiet night for those on the open water.

Out in the Gulf of Maine the sea tosses, never easy, and waves smash on the boney coast.

From here, it sounds like breathing.

It has been a vacation of small adventures. Nothing hair-raising. Nothing that would make the papers. Saturday night our friend and neighbor Bob brought over a blueberry pie he had made that afternoon. We dug out the vanilla ice-cream, and an evening of dietary mayhem and great conversation ensued.

Yesterday, we spent an hour or so up in Waldoboro with Nate Nickoll, an artist of endless imagination who has populated his property with dancing figures, dragons, giant ants and frogs and mermaids, even a yellow submarine, all made from scrap metal. Sometimes he sells his creations, if he can bear to part with them.

This morning, I created my first breakfast involving scallops. It was a big hit. There’s no telling what might happen next.

And, no, this column doesn’t have a point, not as it would if I was tackling economics, or man’s inhumanity to man, or my personal glee at the demise of the Hummer. It’s just me taking time to disengage, knock it into neutral, and just be.

You should try it.

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© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

Passage and gauges

August 16, 2010

This weekend I helped a young man of my acquaintance begin his instruction in the dying art of driving a stick shift.

I took my old Dodge truck, a well-worn workhorse nearly 30 years old. It has a five-speed that’s a little cranky at times, but good for the instruction of a 14-year-old – we’ll call him T —  whose experience with driving has mostly been via computer games which, unlike real life, have a reset button.

His dad had first honors, of course. A boy’s first experiences behind the wheel should be with his dad, if he’s lucky enough to have one around.

Part of the experience, of course, is to be reassured that sudden stalls, jackrabbit starts, and slung gravel have all been done before and are nothing to be ashamed of. The reassurances come, of course, with the recounting of a few examples from our own youth. They also come with the proviso that we will tell everybody about the more extravagant errors committed by our student, but we will end with comments about how much better, after all, he did than we did.

It’s just part of the tradition. Everybody in my high school, for example, knew how I had gotten the drivers’ education car, an enormous burgundy ’65 Chevy Belair with a manual tranny, up on two wheels in a parking lot.

I had a lump on the back of my head for a week from where the coach’s UGA class ring whacked me after that one.

T. talked about different kinds of vehicles all day. How he wants to have a 4×4 pickup truck for hauling stuff, a sports car for going fast, a motorcycle, and an ATV. I think he also mentioned a jet-ski.

Yeah, me, too.

I had forgotten how important all that is when a boy is that age, before he gets his first real taste of freedom with his own drivers’ license and, if he’s really lucky, his own car. I bought my own, and they were real junkers. There’s no better way to learn about the operation of a vehicle than to own one that needs a lot of tinkering to keep it operating.

Back then, in the 1960s, I could tell you the make and model of everything on both sides of the road. Today, I can still do that, as long as whatever is on either side of the road was build in the 1960s or before. Almost everything else looks equally indistinguishable.

There was something else I had forgotten about being 14 or so. Something that occupies most of a young fella’s attention at that age.

On the way to see a blood-and-guts action movie (lots of muscle, car chases, explosions, and gun-fire…a perfect guy pic) T asked me if I had ever noticed that the clear plastic covers on the instrument panel, conical with black plastic tips, looked just like breasts.

I had never noticed. I had always been looking at the gauges.

“No, I never noticed that,” I told him. “However, I promise you that I will never be able to look at those gauges the same way, ever again.”
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© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/