Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Black Hole

I don't believe in magic. But there are some mysteries in life that tempt one to believe such things. After all we don't really know everything about our world. Even aside from the supernatural (God is there, and He does act) there are mysteries in our natural world.

Take my wife's purse, for example. It has some amazing qualities about it. On occasion it yields a folded $20 dollar bill when we thought we had no money. In this it reminds me of the widow's cruse of oil which, at the word of the man of God, always had something in it. At other times it reminds me of the carpet bag of Mary Poppins. The most outrageous things can be found there. Whenever my wife asks me to look for something, saying, "It's in my purse." My reply is invariably, "Can you be more specific." In this age of the cell phone, we often hear her purse ringing with a strange little jazzy tune. After it has been searched in vain to find the phone, it's okay. When the phone is finally located we can just call the original caller with the push of a button or two.

They say there are "black holes" out there in space. I haven't seen one yet, but I am trusting the testimony of those who say it is so. I understand that they appear black because the gravitational draw from inside is so powerful that even the rays of light fail to escape. When a celestial object of some sort draws near to this hole, it is certain to be drawn into the depth of this area, never to be seen again. Well, that's my wife's purse. At any given moment she must tote $4 worth of change in the crannies at the bottom. When we are making a social appearance, she grabs her purse and looks for her comb. She needs to do this soon after we leave the house because of the time needed to locate something even that large.

People make fun of the junk a man carries in his pockets. Well, that's nothing compared to objects lost in the black hole. The concentrated gravitation compresses the atoms in a black hole so compactly that relatively small things weigh enormous amounts of tonnage. Well, have you ever lifted my wife's purse? It's enough to wrench her good shoulder out of joint. Strong men grunt and comment if they have ever had the occasion to lift it for her. "Wow! What have you got in there, an anvil?" It wouldn't surprise me one bit.

At this rate, as you may imagine, she wears out a purse each year, and the project of moving the contents from the old to the new purse is a half day's work.

Yes indeed, there are mysteries of this life that defy explanation. The black hole is one of those phenomena.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Then there was Gabriel, the white cat with one blue eye and one brown eye. Barbara called him retarded. I'm afraid her derogation gave him a complex which he spent his short life trying to conquer. Cats are great entertainers, and those who harbor a prejudice against the feline species never seem to appreciate this.

At the dinner table one night, the family was debating whether or not Gabriel was deaf or just strange. Philip thought he would resolve the question by getting up from the table, going over to the sleeping cat and clapping his hands near his ear. However we were experiencing a violent storm at the same time. Now I am certain that God has a sense of humor (perhaps that is why He invented the house cat). So providence determined that at the exact moment that Philip clapped his hands, an enormous flash of lightning and an immediate crash of thunder (indicating the nearness of the electrical event) occurred and the lights in the house went out. We never witnessed the conclusion of his experiment.

Once when we were returning to the house--a five level split--we saw Gabriel walking around on the roof of our home. No cat had ever been there before, and we still do not know for sure just how Gabriel got there.

In Wilmington, Delaware, there were a plethora of squirrels in the neighborhood. They knew the landscape even better than Gabriel which became evident when Gabe decided to chase one up a neighbor's tree. The squirrel would ascend to a branch and watch as Gabe climbed up the tree behind it. Then it would scamper up a couple more branches and watch. Gabe was still hot on the trail. The squirrel climbed out on the end of the branch. Again Gabriel was right behind, still coming strong. Then the athletic squirrel leaped from the branch to the next tree and away. Gabriel, however, was left clinging to the narrow branch just vacated by the squirrel. The squirrel's weight, which had helped bend the branch downward, now left the equation and the tree branch sprang back to it's higher position with Gabe hanging on for dear life. The cat's weight caused the branch to bounce several times before coming to rest, all this time with a frustrated white leopard clinging to it. Our neighbor, who understood the humor of cats, was witness to the whole event and relayed to us this story, punctuated with partially controlled laughter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Negative Reinforcements

When I was a kid a good spanking did me a lot of good. My parents got good mileage from them. Dad even did the old hack of having me go out in the yard and cut a switch for him to use on my legs and behind. And of course he had to re-send me on the errand because of the inadequacy of the switch I had picked.

In our house there was a board of education that I applied to the seat of learning for our kids. No, no, it's not dangerous or abusive when done properly. I told the kids to grab their ankles and then--timing is very important here--just before they reached the ankle I applied the 1/4 inch plywood board, imaging myself lifting the child off the floor with one wallop. I never lifted them, but once I did break the board on Paul's derriere. Oh, they tried things like delaying things for a chance to pray. Or they would wear 6 or 8 pair of underwear for the occasion. Come to think of it, I believe it was our Paul who took all these inventive approaches.

Contrary to stereotypical images, Barbara the piano teacher has never cracked the knuckles of a student with a ruler. Today she would be jailed for such a thing anyway.

My mother used to use a wooden clothes hanger for a spanker. Women are not usually the best executioners, however. Once when Barbara did her best in my absence, Bobby came back and said, "Mom, you'd better spank me again. The first one didn't hurt."

In my latchkey days as a kid, my mother caught me out after dark (a cardinal sin), and needed to apply negative reinforcement. She screwed up her brow, glared at me and threatened to spank me with a clothespin. There was a pregnant silence as we stared at each other. Then we both broke out laughing. She said, "Well, I guess that wouldn't hurt very much, would it?"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Earthquake Season

There was an earthquake last night. It was a 4.7 on the Richter. Okay, so what else is new? We have them every now and again to keep Midwesterners from overpopulating our state. They don't seem to mind the threat of a tornado that can wipe out an entire town in one terrifying roar. But let the ground vibrate under their feet and they spook like it was Armageddon. Something has to squelch the migration or California will get so overpopulated that it just might break off and fall into the Pacific.

Here we were, typical Californians, pausing the video we were watching while our house danced the jig for about 40 seconds.

Me: "Wow, wasn't that interesting!"

Barbara: "Yeah, it was a pretty good jolt, must've been centered nearby."

Me: "Okay, let's turn to a local TV channel and find out."

All this time the two of us refuse to budge from our comfortable recliners. They tell me that people scream, grab their loved ones and run into the street. Well, no one around here does anything like that.

Now when I was a kid (I mean MANY years ago, like 1951 or so) I remember the quake that devastated the town of Tehachepi. I was in bed on the top bunk. We were in a room with many old fashioned sash drawn windows with counterbalances built into the framework. My bed was violently shaking and I could hear those counterbalances banging inside the frames in cadence. The sound was like a platoon of marching soldiers. I climbed out of bed and looked in the back yard where the lemon tree was shaking as though a great hand had grabbed it and was trying to rid it of all the fruit at once. That was an earthquake! But they just don't come along all that often. Most of them are fun, interesting diversions, that keep Californians reminded that they live on the left coast.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Aunt's Dog

My dad's brother, Fred, was always known as "Speed". I have no idea why he was given that nickname, especially since he was the slowest one of the brothers. I had an uncle who raced Indianapolis type cars. I had an uncle who raced motorcycles on flat track. After he was run over by most of the pack behind him, he turned to motorcycle hill climbing, another fascinating sport. My uncle Harry was not a racer of any kind, but he was the youngest in the family, and maybe the others wielded some influence in preventing his engaging in such dangerous things. Instead he lied about his age to join the navy, and was in the South Pacific somewhere when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. I guess he chose a different danger.

Anyway this is a story about uncle Speed. He told me that I should tell people that he was my "uncle Pud, my drinking uncle." I never remember him being sloppy drunk, but he liked to think he could hold more than most men who are still standing. I remember Aunt Jean in a condition incapable of pronouncing her words clearly. So when they got a pair of yappy lap dogs it was inevitable that they named them "Whisky" and "Soda". By and by Soda met her demise, and only Whisky was left. Well, my Aunt Jean told me this story about herself. One Sunday morning she walked down to the local liquor store to get the Sunday edition of the paper. She took the dog with her, of course. But she had mistakenly gone on this errand a little earlier than the opening of the booze emporium. When she arrived at the door of the establishment, several other people had come early too. Soon the proprietor arrived with the key, and opened the door. Dogs can be impetuous, you know, and so as soon as the door was open just a little, the dog raced into the store like a bullet. My aunt Jean, instinctively called out his name, "Whisky!" she yelled. To which the store manager replied, "Now there's a thirsty woman!"

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blondie strikes again

In some ways Blondie was to me what Hobbs was for Calvin. Only my tiger was alive. Those who hate cats don't know how cool cats really are. Just like dogs, cats are quite different from one another. I was a latchkey kid before the term was invented, and Blondie was my companion. She sought me out and liked to be stroked by her friend. Or she might feel the necessity of grooming me with her rough and tireless tongue.

This episode begins with my bachelor uncle Walter. His sisters (my mother and aunties) were convinced that he would remain a bachelor all his life, but he surprised everyone and proposed to Mary Smiley. Yes, that was her name, and it seemed to be descriptively appropriate for her. She was a little older than he, and for several reasons, theirs was the wedding of the year for this family. Everyone made a big fuss over it. Everyone wanted to have a part in it. Since grandpa Saumert was a professional baker, he was asked to make the cake. Those were post-depression days, and our stove was the only one in the family that would accommodate the large pans needed for the lower levels of the cake. Consequently grandpa did the baking at our house. A couple days before the wedding our home was filled with the lovely odors of cake baking. Grandpa carefully laid out the layers on our dining room table to cool overnight. Newsprint contained sanitary ink and so were spread over the cake layers. Well, it turns out that although newsprint may discourage germs and vermin, it was not enough to discourage Blondie. She was a house cat, and she did not sleep in my bed every night. This night the attractive smell of wedding cake cooling in the night was too much for her to ignore. In the morning it was discovered that she had tasted each of the layers, and for good measure was found comfortably curled up on one of them. My parents went berserk. The cat was banished, but the damage had been done. And tonight was the wedding! Dad took the assignment of picking up grandpa and explaining the tragedy to him so he could plan a repair--and calm down a bit before he arrived. Grandpa was an emotional artist, and there was some fear of his reaction. But first of all, he was a professional. He rose to the occasion and immediately mixed a large batch of marzipan. He deftly filled the bitten holes in each layer, fitted the cake together, and viola! We saw nothing but a beautiful wedding cake. Mom and I made a few knowing remarks about the delicious cake at the reception, but it was a closely guarded family secret for many years. I don't know if my aunt Mary and uncle Walt ever knew about this. If any guests were allergic to cats, it was not evident by the voracious consumption of this pastry.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My felonious feline

I guess you could say she was my girlfriend. We were very close friends. We cuddled a lot, and she even slept with me many times. But she had the strangest habit of licking my hair. Yes, Blondie was feline, but she was special. She seemed to think she was more than just a cat. And when I was nine years old I agreed with her opinion. She groomed her kittens by copious licking, and she apparently thought of me as one of her little ones.

My father was a clerk in the Hollywood Post Office (which may be the source of a story or two) and when he came home from work, he enjoyed removing his shoes and stretching on the couch. He was over 6 ft. and the couch was short, so his feet usually rested on the opposite armrest. Well, when Blondie was very young she loved to attack feet, and more than once she provoked a loud beller from dad as she sprang through the air, grabbed his feet with her front paws and began biting with her teeth and kicking with her hind feet. He batted the beast from her death grip, but she seemed to consider the pain well worth the fun of the attack.

When Blondie was old enough to bear kittens, she did exactly that. After giving away two batches of kittens, dad decided to get her "fixed" so she spent the rest of her days grooming me.

Perhaps the strangest trait of Blondie was what we discovered in the kitchen one night just before supper. Mom was fixing salad and accidently dropped a piece of iceburg lettuce on the floor. Before she could bend down and retrieve it, Blondie had found it and was munching voraciously on the leaf. She loved lettuce! From that day on, whenever we were making a salad or using lettuce for a sandwich, we would "treat" Blondie with a piece of the lettuce. I've never known a cat before or since who liked--or would even try--lettuce. That included Blondie's babies. When a cat trains her kittens, she has a special meow (sort of a cross between a purr and a meow) that is intended to assemble the crew for a treat. Well, the first piece of lettuce given her after the kittens were born, was intended to be shared by Blondie. She dragged it to the middle of the kitchen floor. She called with her special "Purrrow" and the feline children came running from all directions. Then she stooped and nibbled a piece of the leaf for them to watch. Then the kittens drew near to this wet leaf, sniffed a little and walked away. She looked at them incredulously. "What's the matter with you! Don't you know a treat when you see one?" her body language seemed to convey.

Unintentional Trip

I am writing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we are visiting with Calvin and his family. We came to see our Luke and Ariel in their senior recital. This trip was very intentional, and it is always a delight to see our family.

But yesterday I took a trip that was totally unintentional. We were shopping at a mall near here. We felt smug because we found a handicap parking space just a few steps away from the door. There are a few perks to getting old and decrepit--not many--but a few. Striding doward Dillard's archway we had to step up a curb from the parking lot drive, but my foot didn't quite make the clearance. My sandal kicked the curb, but my body was already committed to the motion and was depending on the new position of my foot in order to remain erect. It was one of those moments that happened in an instant, but lingers in slow motion in the memory. Thanks to this enormous pillow just below my rib cage, my fall was broken with a cushioned bounce. Suddenly I was examining the space between shoes and pavement. My face hit the sidewalk, but very gently. Even my hands which I put out to break my fall were barely skinned. I wasn't sure just what I wanted to do about this, so I laid there for a few moments. "What happened?" my Barbara asked. Now in this spread eagle position of abject embarrassment she could have said anything, and it would have angered me. What she did say was as benign as any other choice of comments, but it provoked mental filtering of my sarcasm file. "I dropped an epithelial and tried to catch it before it hit the ground." "Didn't you know I have a practice of tasting the dust of every town we visit?" But instead I simply said, "What kind of question is that?" Before I could muster a more potent barrage of verbal sardonics to cover my embarrassment, I saw a rescue team out of the corner of my eye. Two ladies--sweet, southern thirty-somethings--left their car and came running to assist me. It's not that easy to lift me from the pavement, unless they have been pumping iron routinely. So the process was slow and awkward. I thanked them and they were on their way, solicitously asking assurance that I was alright.

When we sinners are plagued with the temptation of pride, the Lord finds it necessary to humble with a fall or two. Sometimes with a literal fall.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Courtship memories

Ours was a sweet and exciting courtship--at least in my memory. Barbara will remember different things, of course, and may have a slightly different opinion. She would, no doubt, bring up the time I was an hour and a half late in picking her up for a date. I guess I should have called and told her that there was no hurry, but we didn't have cell phones in those days. Anyway, there must be some occasions of testing the devotion of your honey bunch.

Then there was the time we came home at a reasonable hour only to find a family of skunks occupying the front yard of Barbara's grandmother's house. When we were courting, Barbara lived with her grandparents in Highland Park, taking care of them in their old age. Well I lived in Eagle Rock, just over the hill from Highland Park. Rather convenient. So here we were faced with a momma skunk and her babies rooting around in the front yard for bugs and worms. We learned that this rodent family lived under her grandmother's house, and being nocturnal in nature, were acting quite naturally. The big question was how should we act? Might we calmly stroll by them down the driveway to the rear entrance of the house? Should we make some noise in hope of frightening them into leaving the yard? Should we just nap in the car until morning? None of the alternatives seemed that attractive to either of us. We spent an extended period of time observing the behavior of these curious beasts, but somehow the romance had dicipated from this particular date.

As I recall it was the first alternative that was chosen, and I am happy to report that it was successful.