Monday, March 31, 2008

Desert Flora

I have a passion for plants, and I particularly enjoy my growing cactus collection. This past week I acquired three large plants that are well suited to the heat of Arizona. One is a gardenia tree (potted, about three feet tall) that is ready to burst into bloom. It has a shady location on my back balcony. The other two are Egyptian papyrus (a.k.a. "bull rushes") from which the Egyptians were able to manufacture a forerunner of our modern paper. So far all of these newcomers appear to be adjusting well to life at Pa Rock's.

My next project - an orange tree!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dear Boone

Dear Boone,

Thank you for that nice letter yesterday. Your printing is very nice and you write very good sentences. You may be turning into a writer like Uncle Tim!

Here are a few of my best memories of you. The first is the day you were born. I was living in Waynesville, MO, and I drove down to West Plains to meet you on your first day. You were very small! I brought you a stuffed monkey that I had gotten in Washington DC a few weeks before. I took pictures of you, your Mom, and your Dad. It was a very special day!

I also remember the time that you and I went to the movies by ourselves. We saw "Brother Bear" and I was so impressed by how well you understood it. And then there was the time that Uncle Tim and I visited you and your Dad for Christmas, and you taught us how to play Crazy 8s. That was really fun!

The trip to the Grand Canyon was fun. One of the things that I remember was when I had you back up under the antlers at that Trading Post and then I took your picture. I have that picture in my office, and I tell people that it is "my ten-point grandson!" They really think that is funny! Also on that trip I got to see both of my grandsons together for the first time. That was really special. Do you remember how we left the train two times in Albuquerque to get Cold Stone ice cream? It was really good!

Boone, you are a super grandson. I am proud to be your grampa!

Love,

Pa Rock

P.S. Good luck in the spelling bee!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Memories from My Grandson

A few days ago I published a series of emails from my children in which they talked about memories of my involvement in their lives. Today I received a letter from my 8-year-old grandson, Boone, who shared his memories with me. That letter follows:

March 24, 2008
Dear Pa Rock,

I want to share some things with you that I remember.

One of the best times I had with you was going to the Grand Canyon. Do you remember riding the train there? That was really fun. Remember when we went to the Old Navy? Remember when you bounced the balls under the dressing room? I remember when you showed me all the animals on your farm. Remember when we stayed at the hotel in Phoenix? Remember when you bought me the guitar for Christmas? That was fun, too. I remember when we got snowed in at Grandpa Garland's, and we went sledding. I really liked the President stuff you sent me. I remember when you came to my house and brought me my turtles. I always liked the books that you bought me.

Thanks for being such a great Grandpa.

Love,
Boone


Boone, thank you for sharing your memories. I hope that we are able to make many more memories together. I love you!

Pa Rock

Happy Birthday, Mark Jesse Brown

Happy 23rd birthday, Mark. I hope that this year is your best ever and that you continue to build on the gains that you have made during the last several months. Plan and save for the future, and the world will be yours!

Rock

Redirection

Every few decades America undergoes some basic realignments, usually under the direction of a President who understands, with uncommon clarity, the importance of leading with a vision. We have had three such leaders in my lifetime:

John Kennedy challenged us to make America and the world a better place by focusing on others instead of ourselves. We weren't about greed, we were about giving. Kennedy gave us the Peace Corps, which is still a force for good in the world nearly fifty years later. He also redirected our national focus toward the stars, or at least the moon, and began a serious effort to strengthen math and science education in our schools.

Lyndon Johnson was thrust into the Presidency early in what should have been the Kennedy period. LBJ used his unparalleled power with Congress to create a massive Civil Rights program and anti-poverty agenda. It was under Johnson that many of America's most disadvantaged first began to realize that they, too, could gain entry into the system. Some of the jewel's in LBJ's crown of accomplishments include the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA - a domestic Peace Corps), Medicare, Medicaid, and Headstart - programs that radically changed America for the better.

Society is a pendulum. When Americans feel that government has gone too far to the left or to the right, they begin looking for someone who can bring the pendulum back in the other direction. There were American's in the sixties who resented what they saw as government's appropriation of their tax money for use with the people that demagogues assured them were too lazy to work. It was time for a shift, someone with a new vision.

Ronald Reagan came to the White House in 1980 with the vision of refocusing America from the "us" of Kennedy and Johnson, to the "me". Insteading of concentrating on what we could do for our country, Reagan asked us to focus on what we could do to make our own lives better, and let our poor neighbors fend for themselves.

And America has been on this "me" track now for almost thirty years. Even an eight-year democratic respite under the Clintons saw little done to enhance the lives of the poor and needy. The North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), in fact, proved to be a critical factor in increasing unemployment and poverty in the United States during the Clinton years and throughout the presidency of George Bush.

George Bush has taken the pendulum so far to the right that it appears to be stuck. Our treasury has been sacked by Bush and Cheney's cronies, otensibly to fight a war that has drug on for five years and that we have zero (ZERO!) hope of winning. Our national prestige is in the crapper thanks to our unwillingness to negotiate or even be civil with other nations. We let bin Laden escape so that the President could rush into Iraq and prove something to his father, and then have a moment of glory prancing around the deck of an aircraft carrier. George Bush has stood, like the proud little peacock that he is, snapping orders as America digs the biggest hole in the history of the world, and he won't let us stop digging!

It is time for a change. It is time to begin redirecting our national energies in a more positive, and world-friendly direction. It is time that we begin to care about every mother's son, or daughter, and not just what is good for the stockholders of Halliburton, Blackwell, and Raytheon. It's our America, and it's time to bring it home!

There are three candidates left in the race for the presidency of the United States. John McBush, who states that he does not understand economics and is willing to stay in Iraq one hundred more years. McBush is a cranky old man (with an eye for blondes) who wants to serve out George Bush's third term. Billary Clinton wants to take us back to the good old days of the 1990's when our factory jobs went to Mexico and the assets of the wealthy went to the Caymans. She clearly wants to serve Bill's third term. Barack Obama wants to focus on people, and to provide us with a hope of regaining our stature in the world through diplomacy and good deeds rather than with bombs and braggadocio. Of the three, Obama is the only one who offers any hope for change.

Obama '08! It is time for a change!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rusty Pails #27
One More Trophy

by Rocky Macy

Not every nut stays on the tree – that’s for sure. Occasionally one falls off and lands at an auction.

It happened just last week. The auctioneer was still working through the things that the sale bill referred to as “other items too numerous to mention.” One of these was a corroded old cast-iron skillet missing its handle. Even the auctioneer had to smile as he vainly asked the crowd for a two dollar opening bid. As he prepared to “sweeten the deal” by adding something almost as worthless to the lot, an out-of-towner stepped forward and announced that he would give five dollars for the skillet.

Any fella that doubts the power of money should have been there to see the calming effect that just the mention of that five dollars had on the crowd. Why even the babies stopped squalling so their folks could study the durn fool. As the dumbfounded auctioneer started to hand over the purchase, another fool with money spoke up.

“Five and a quarter,” I heard myself say. Maybe there was more in this relic that met the eye. Anyways, I wanted to find out what kinds of money this stranger was willing to pay. I learned soon enough.

The crowd was now staring at me in disbelief. The auctioneer had regained his composure and was barking for five and a quarter, and he and I and everyone else looked to the stranger for his bid. It didn’t come. Instead he smiled at me and said, “Five and a quarter – for that!” His laugh spread to the auctioneer, the crowd, and finally even to me. It ain’t often that I’m had, but when it happens I can summon the strength to laugh as loud as the next guy.

Now my problem is what to do with this prize. The only way I can save face is to show that it really was a smart buy. Esther Pearl, when she quit laughing, suggested that I send to Rambo for a frisbee. Shadetree Mike said that it might make a sensible hat for some of the “airheads” that come by his place. But I’ll probably just take it home and put it on the mantle over the fireplace – just one more trophy in my complicated life!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Point of Blogging

I had planned to write a response today to those wonderful emails that I received from Nick, Molly, and Tim yesterday, but the day got away from me. Maybe this weekend I can set aside enough time to say what I really want to communicate - and to do it well.

Part of why I want to take so much care in replying to the memories that my kids stirred up is that I am using this blog as sort of a personal history. It contains experiences that I have had, fiction that I have written, and rantings that give a picture of who I am at this point in my life. Hopefully, my grandkids and their children will have a way to look at who I was through my own perspective.

Reciting my history over the Internet has a benefit that I hadn't counted on. Recently a friend from forty-five years ago contacted me out of the blue. I had mentioned her in a piece that I wrote about growing up at Riverview Court in Noel, MO. She had googled her own name and came across that blog entry. Receiving her email was very exciting.

I also blog because it is such good therapy. There are days when I need to rail about some outrage or another, and, living alone, that is sometimes difficult to do. This blog is my voice into cyberspace, whether anyone is actually listening or not. It makes me feel good to yell into the void!

"Yo, Billary! No third term!"

See what I mean.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Three Wonderful Kids!

Late this afternoon at the office I checked my email and found that all three of my children had written in an eleven minute span. I nervously began reading them to find out what was going on. Those emails follow - in the order that they arrived - from Tim, Nick, and Molly:
Rock,

We all wanted to do something a little more meaningful this year-given the fact that this is one of the Zero years, as you put it. We all came up with something that we wanted to say, I focused on some particular memories that I have from childhood that I think about a lot and really stand out for me.

The first time and place is our time living together when I was in middle school-when it was just me, you and Nick. It feels like we did everything together back then. Being an adult now and knowing a little more about what that means, I realize that you probably skipped out on a lot of opportunities to be with your friends or to date or be part of any social scene. Taking me with you on your first date with Susan is the perfect example of what I mean. You always worked very hard to show me how important I was to you and that I was priority number one. I have all of these great memories from those years on Jefferson Street. As a grown-up(again...whatever that means), I go to the movies more than anyone I know. The reason for this is because it was my favorite thing to do as a kid-and you took me every weekend for a year during this particular time period. If there was something at the theatre that I wanted to see, then chances were you were interested in seeing it, too...or vice versa-and we went! No fuss, no problems-just two guys enjoying one another's company. Going to late shows of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man or Joe vs. the Volcano are some of my most beloved memories. Eating at Mazzio's with you and Susan two or three times a week-having a pool table instead of a dining room table-every kid I know wishing their dad took them to professional wrestling matches or gave them the kind of freedom that you gave me-I think I was right to think I was the coolest kid in town.

The other time period that comes to my mind is everything as a young adult to the present. No matter how much I screwed up or how embarrassed I was of myself and my predicament, you've always been there to bail me out-emotionally and financially and a few other ways. You've supported me on a silly dream to become a writer and bragged
about me even when there really wasn't anything worth bragging about. That support
has meant more to me than I've shown. If I ever do make it doing any kind of writing, I'll have you at the very top of my Thank You List.

Happy 60th,

Love, Tim.

Hey Dad,
I'm glad you enjoyed your Netflix gift. I had it one time and really liked it. It wasn't much though as far as a gift goes, but I'm the worlds worst when it comes to finding just the right gift for someone. Tim had a really good idea though and we've all decided to write a little something for you about memories from our childhood up till today. I'm not real good at writing, so bear with me.
You know it's kind of weird I reflect back alot on my childhood, especially now that Boone is here. I can remember having birthday parties in that blue house by the dam in Noel. I can remember some of the kids faces but not their names. Those were really great times. Can you believe I can even remember hiding behind Damions dad's chair and peeking out the window as people looked for us that day we hid? I still don't understand why you didn't kill me right then. Those are some of my earliest memories as a kid. The weeekends we would drive over there and visit Ma and Grandad are some I'll never forget also. Ma would come in and get me up at midnight to get me and have a midnight snack with her. I always thought that was so cool and it was our secret. I think maybe that's why I try and do things like that with Boone, because I can remember how important those things were to me. The house in Mtn View was alot of fun too. Remember when Tim put his hand through that glass window? I remember when we build that shed and the concrete patio and the swingset at the bottom of the sinkhole. I was fascinated as a kid at how you could build anything. And you had that heavy wheelbarrow we were always mixing concrete in. Remember that night Doug Andrews took you and I out gigging? And the motor died or something and we got in the middle of all those snakes. I remember him saying they were cottonmouths. Do you think they really were cottonmouths? People comment all the time about how accident prone I am and I have to tell them that I'm the kid that cut a finger off in the car on the way to the grocery store one time. Some of my most favorite memories of being a kid are from when would take vacations. We got to see some really cool things that alot of people don't get to their entire life. I'm really grateful that we were able to do that. Do you remember when we interrupted that great big Catholic wedding in Canada? It was a rich black family and we came in wearing jams and flip flops. How great was that. lol I bet that bride still talks about that today. I know I do. I think we should have wrote a book about our adventures and took the profit and moved to the islands somewhere. It's fun to sit around and talk about the things we did as a kid and the places we went. I know Boone loves to listen to it, as well do most of my friends. I was going through photo albums the other day and showing a friends some of our old pictures and found that scrap book that you made for me. The one where you made all of us a different one. That was such an awesome gift. It brought back alot of memories. Boone loved seeing pictures of me with long hair and pictures of my friends from school.
We were all really blessed with having such a great childhood growing up. People ask me all the time if you and I are anything alike. And I tell them yeah, we're just alike. I get comments from friends telling me what a great job I'm doing with Boone. Well I had a pretty good role model. Thanks for always being there no matter what. You're an awesome Dad. Hope you had a great birthday!

Nick

The goal was to write about a favorite childhood memory I have of you. I quickly realized though that my favorite memories are not from 20 years ago, they are from a few months ago. I am thrilled that I got the chance to get re-acquainted with you when you moved to Arizona. I was a little surprised to discover how much we have in common. From liberal viewpoints, to our taste in home decoration, to music, to working out, to our passion for helping others in need; we really have so much in common. It took me 31 years to see it, but I think I have more in common with you than I do anyone else in our family. Realizing this made it even harder for me to leave Phoenix. I was looking forward to getting to know you more. I will definitely make an effort to continue doing that from here. I just want you to know that I'm really proud to have a father as interesting, strong, intelligent, open-minded, aware, daring and inspirational as you. I'm pleased that Sebastian has a granddad with such wonderful qualities and I am anxious for you to begin sharing those qualities with him. We may be far away geographically, but we are always with you emotionally. I love you.

Molly.


Am I a lucky Dad, or what? I love you guys very much!

Pa Rock

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rusty Pails #26
The Answering Machine

by Rocky Macy


“This here’s Ermine at the Pump and Git. Well, not really…but it’s a recording of me. I’m gone, and Mike ain’t too great at answering phones, or doing much else for that matter, so leave a message after the beep. I’ll call you back sooner or later. Maybe.”

Beep.

“Yes. This is Agent Fleece of the IRS. We’re looking at a major tax audit unless I hear from you in the next few hours. You can reach me at…” And then I hung up.

Okay, disguising my voice and pretending to be the taxman was a dirty trick – I admit it! But there’s just something downright degrading about carrying on a conversation with an appliance! Who does that Shadetree Mike think he is anyway? J. Paul Rockyfeller?

Shadetree Mike was entertaining us at the Pump and Git’s domino table a few days later with some of his far-fetched fish stories, when he was interrupted in mid-tale by the telephone ringing. “Would you mind getting that, darlin’?” he asked Ermine as she crossed the room carrying a case of motor oil.

“I thought you had an answering machine.” I blurted out.

Mike looked over at me and smiled like he had just solved a crime, leastways a prank. “Oh, we did,” he volunteered. “I bought it in a big box of stuff at an auction. And it was a great little machine, I’ll say that.”

“Oh?” Judge Redbone was swimming in the direction of a baited hook.

“Why it answered the phone, took messages, and even played music like a radio!”

“So?” The Judge was circling dangerously close. “What’s so unusual about that?”

Shadetree Mike spun on. “It had an alarm that woke us up for breakfast and a timer that turned on the coffee pot.”

“But,” I interrupted, knowing better, “if it did all of those things, why did you get rid of it?”

“Had to, Rusty.” The Dean of Dominoes shook his head sadly and continued. “The danged thing had an incurable defect.”

“What?” The Judge and I both bit at once.

“It accepted collect calls!”

Auction Tip: Identify the places in your community that allow sale bills to be posted. Check in at these locations regularly to stay current with the auction activity.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cockpit Cowboys

Last week I travelled by US Airways to and from Washington, DC. Today the news services have been reporting that a pilot somehow discharged a pistol in the cockpit of a US Airways flight that was enroute from Denver to Charlotte. Apparently airlines and the government are now allowing pilots and co-pilots to fly armed as a deterrent to armed takeovers while in flight.

Arizona is gun crazy - and, coincidentally, US Airways is an Arizona company. Recently there has been a bill being argued in the state legislature that would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry weapons in schools - any individual - any school - teachers, administrators, bus drivers, kids. The thought is that some crazy with a grudge against the school bullies would think twice about carrying a weapon to school and opening fire - because everyone would fire back. Never mind that most of these crazies wind up committing suicide anyway. Never mind that when the police arrive everyone would be firing at each other, and the poor police would have no way of knowing the good crazies from the bad crazies.

So, being a good Arizonan, let me put forth this idea. If school cooks, and teachers, and students can arm themselves for protection, shouldn't the same right be available to airline passengers? A plane full of flying lead would teach those suicidal hijackers a thing or two!

The next time I go to Washington, DC, I think I'll take the bus!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Birthday

Today is Easter Sunday, the earliest Easter Sunday since 1913. Today is also my sixtieth birthday. The next time that Easter falls on March 23rd will be in the year 2228, my 280th birthday - and I am expecting a party!

Apparently Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. The earliest possible Easter is March 22nd, and those are the rarest of all.

I was born in 1948 and am a true baby-boomer. My father served in England and France during World War II where he received a Purple Heart after being hit in the arm with a rocket. He was part of the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force. My mother worked at a munitions plant in Parsons, Kansas, during the war - a true "Rosie the Riveter." Dad and his cousin, Dalton Macy, were operating a taxi in Neosho, MO, after the war when they met a couple of Sreaves girls. Dalton married Betty and my Dad married Florine. They are all gone now, except for my Dad who still lives on his own in a very big house in Noel, MO. He told me recently that he certainly never suspected that he would live to see me turn sixty.

There are two major zodiac charts in use around the world, a solar zodiac and a lunar zodiac. The solar aodiac is the one with which most of us are familiar. It is twelve sun signs that begin with Aries the Ram and works its way through to Pisces the Fish. Each sign is dominant for about thirty days each year.
The lunar zodiac, more commonly thought of as the Chinese calendar, is based on animals and runs a full year. The first sign is the Rat and the chart concludes at the end of twelve years with the Pig.

Interestingly enough, I was born an Aries in the year of the Rat, the first position on both charts. I'm not sure what that means, but there is only a very small window when that can happen - during one thirty-day period every twelve years.

Today I had telephone calls from all of my children and grandchildren. My sister called and sang "Happy Birthday" to me, and I also got to visit with my neice, Tiffany, on that call. Late this evening my niece, Heidi, called, also with birthday wishes. My good friend, Imogene Knaust, called from Pierce City, MO, to wish me the best, and my friend, Andy Cleeton, sent a handmade card.

It has been a very good day. It has been a very good sixty years!

The Freshet
by Henry David Thoreau

Tis now the twenty-third of March,
And this warm sun takes out the starch
Of winter's pinafore - Methinks
The very pasture gladly drinks
A health to spring, and while it sips
It faintly smacks a myriad lips.

A stir is on the Wooster hills,
And Nobscot too the valley fills,
Where scarce you'd dip an acorn cup,
In summer when the sun is up,
Now you'll find no cup at all,
But in its place a waterfall.

The river swelleth more and more,
Like some sweet influence stealing o'er
The passive town; and for a while
Each tussock makes a tiny isle,
Where on some friendly Ararat
Resteth the weary water rat.

Our village shows a rural Venice,
Its broad lagoons where yonder fen is;
Far lovlier that the bay of Naples,
That placid cove amid the maples;
And in my neighbor's field of corn
I recognise the Golden Horn.

Here nature taught from year to year,
When only red men came to hear.
Methinks 'twas in this school of art
Venice and Naples learned their part,
But still their mistress, to my mind,
Her young disciples leaves behind.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rusty Pails #25
Heck's Hot Tub

by Rocky Macy

Heck Frye is our town’s eternal playboy. From the lacquered buttons on his polyester overalls to the permanent wave in his temporary hairpiece, my pal is a work of art!

I was returning from an auction one afternoon last week when I decided to pull into Heck’s place and see why he had missed the sale. Heck heard the “Rust Bucket” before I could get her shut down, and he yelled for me to join him around back.

As I rounded the corner of Heck’s sun washed mobile home, I ran headlong into a sight that would have slowed a runaway freight train. There, on the rickety old back porch that Heck calls a deck, sat Sprung Hinge’s second biggest fool bubbling in a vat of boiling water!

Somehow I managed to climb the steps and park my frame in an old lawn chair without taking my eyes off of the spectacle. Deciding that the obvious couldn’t be ignored, I asked, “What in tarnation are you doing?”

“I’m hot-tubbing. It’s the latest thing!”

“Ain’t you afraid that your necklace will rust?” I was referring to the three strands of chain that were looped around his neck.

“Why this is eight-karat gold, Rusty. Gold cain’t rust.” He adjusted his mirror sunglasses and reached for the thermos. “Say, would you like some herbal tea?”

The blare of Esther Pearl’s horn split the air before I could answer. “Quick, Rusty, throw me the towel!”

“What’s the fuss?” I laughed and took the towel down from the porch railing. “Esther’s seen you in your swim trunks before.”

“Don’t you know nuthin’, Rusty Pails?” Heck slid across the tub and made a grab for the towel, but missed. “Us experienced hot-tubbers don’t wear trunks!”

I flung the towel to the far side of the porch and hollered for Esther to come on back. Somehow I knew the fun was just getting underway!

Esther climbed the steps and plopped down in the chair next to Heck’s tub. He’d been sweating before, but now the old pores had really opened up. While Esther was busy discussing hot tubs with the captive Mr. Frye, I strolled off into the kitchen.

Heck knew he’d been had when I walked back out carting an armload of vegetables and two kitchen knives. “That’s not funny!” he shouted.

“Do you have plans for supper, Esther?”

“Why, no,” she chortled as she caught on to his predicament. “But I’m willing to help. I’ll slice carrots while you dice the potatoes.”

“No!” Heck screamed.

“No need to be impolite.” Esther kept a straight face as she whacking carrot slices into the brew faster than Heck could throw them out.

“That’s right, buddy.” I held a potato and knife over the tub. “What’s wrong with being stewed anyway? Many’s the time I’ve been Fryed!”

Leastways, that’s how I see it!

Auction Tip: If you are a collector, let the local auctioneers know what your interests are. Most will be glad to notify you when items that you collect are coming up for sale.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring in Arizona

I think that today is the first day of spring, but it's already early summer in the Valley of the Sun. It is hot, hot, hot! And the natives all tell me that it is going to get much hotter - and they always tag statements like that with "but it's a dry heat!" So is an oven!

Send ice cream!

The good news is that things are starting to bloom. I noticed several blocks on the way home this evening that smelled very perfumy. I would have guessed that it was some desert form of honeysuckle, but I couldn't see the origins of the wonderful scents. The cacti are also blooming - very pretty - but no flowery smells.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rusty Pails #24
Heck's Yard Sale

by Rocky Macy

A good neighbor will be there when you need him. That’s why I was pounding on Heck Frye’s front door yesterday fifteen minutes before daybreak. Heck didn’t know it yet, but he needed Old Rusty.

Heck pulled the door open slowly, obviously more asleep than awake. “What in tarnation are you doing here at this hour, Rusty Pails?” Manners aren’t my neighbor’s long suit – leastways not before breakfast.

“Where’s the stuff?” I asked as I pushed my way past the sleepy doorman and into the house.

“Stuff?”

“Yard sale stuff. There was a sign on the wall at the laundrymat last night.” I hesitated. “Today is the big day, isn’t it? Heck Frye’s first-ever yard sale?”

“It doesn’t start ‘til nine o’clock. How about some breakfast?”

“No time. Just set the coffee to perking and I’ll start hauling things outside.” My twenty-twenty yard sale instincts led me to Heck’s hall closet. Pulling the door open, I found a mountain of soon-to-be-bargains.

“But Rusty,” he wailed, “we’ve got hours to get ready.”

“I’m going to need tape and rope – and clothespins!” I headed out onto the porch with the first box of treasures.

“But Rusty!”

“And a good marking pencil,” I added, returning for the second load.

“It’s too early!”

I stopped in my tracks. After carefully lowering load number two onto the coffee table, I straightened up and prepared to give Heck a quick course in the basics of yard sales. “Look here, old buddy, saying a sale starts at nine a.m. really means that things will start happening at six. If you want people here at nine, tell ‘em it starts at noon!”

Heck laughed and helped me re-gather my cargo. “Nobody but Rusty Pails would make it up this lane before sunup.”

“Maybe,” I conceded.

“And maybe not,” Judge Rufus T. Redbone added as he stepped into the open doorway. “Say, Heck, do you have a flashlight? Miss Lola Longtooth wants to have a better look through that box of knick-knacks.”

“Is this lawn furniture for sale?” someone shouted from the porch.

“Put down that chair, lady,” came a reply. “I saw it first.”

A stranger pushed his way in past the Judge. “Hey, Mac, does your old truck run?”

I don’t know about the old truck, but Heck Frye sure could run! We both dove for the closet and started hauling out treasures. It was going to be a great day for a yard sale!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An Old Friend

I have been out-of-pocket for the past week attending the Psychotherapy Networker Convention in Washington, DC. I attended some very useful workshops at that convention and was able to hear some excellent national speakers. Following four days at that convention, I attended a one-day session that was strictly for Air Force therapists.

The workshops took most available daylight time, including Saturday and Sunday, so I didn't get to do much tourist stuff. I did head out for adventures most evenings on the Metro. The Metro itself was disappointing. The last two times that I was in D.C. the subway system ran flawlessly. Not so this time. I encountered regular delays, escalators that were out-of-order, and, in one case, our train broke down and we had to disembark and wait for a replacement. The Metro was new during the Bicentennial of 1976, so I guess it is starting to encounter the infirmities of aging.

One night I went to the National Mall and walked from the Smithsonian to the Washington Monument. Later that night I rode over to Union Station for shopping and supper. Another evening I went to Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle. It is a favorite bookstore of mine, and I manage to get there every time that I am in town. They also have a nice restaurant at the bookstore. I travelled to Chinatown two different evenings. I also enjoy visiting there, and manage to find something new with each visit. This time I stood in front of a small Chinese restaurant reading the menu, when I noticed a nearby street sign that identified that building as Mary Surratt's boarding house - where the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was hatched.

It was at National Airport as I was waiting to leave where I had my only celebrity sighting of the trip. I was sitting outside of Gate 42 at US Air as passengers began coming off of a plane that had just arrived. One of the first off was a nice looking lady who was clutching a large carry-on bag to her person. As soon as I saw her, I felt like I was running into an old friend. It was Cokie Roberts of ABC's "This Week" and National Public Radio fame. She was chatting with a male passenger, and he said, "Well, you're home now." Cokie replied, "Yes, I'm home, but only for a very brief time." And I kept quiet. (That's as it should be!)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rusty Pails #23
Beautifying Ermine

by Rocky Macy

Late one evening as Ermine was lifting Shadetree Mike’s feet to mop, the thought struck her that she was being ignored. Somehow, she reckoned, she was going to get her sedimentary spouse to pay her some attention!

The next day she checked in at the “Curl Up and Dye Beauty Saloon” and turned herself over to the tormented imagination of Sally Wildhair, outlaw beautician. After two hours of aggravated beautifying, Sally pushed Ermine out the door and into the blistering light of public scrutiny.

What marched up to our domino table at the Pump and Git that afternoon wasn’t Ermine, leastways it wasn’t our Ermine! Her hair, lookin’ like a bundle of used paint brushes that had been left out in the sun to dry, stuck out in a half-dozen directions and bore almost as many colors. But it didn’t stop there! The motorcycle helmet that she carried was color-coordinated with her combat boots, and neither detracted enough from the rest of the wardrobe – which consisted of patched denims and leathers set off with chain accents.

She stopped a few feet in front of the table and asked, “Can I get you fellas anything?”

There wasn’t a sound! I was plumb dumb speechless, and Truman’s mouth was hanging or far open I expected to see his dentures come sliding out and crash on the table. But Shadetree Mike, still focused on his dominoes, was able to answer. “Another root beer, darlin’. And maybe some more peanuts.”

Ermine moved up next to the table, obviously hoping to force the issue. “Salted or unsalted?”

“Yes, dear.” The Dean of Dominoes responded as he drew from the boneyard looking for a six.

“And maybe I could shine Rusty’s boots and wash Heck’s truck while I’m at it?” She was commencing to get a full head of steam.

Before Shadetree Mike could answer – and the rest of us weren’t about to – Ermine took her motorcycle helmet and slammed it down over her husband’s dominoes. Terror stricken, we all backed off! Nobody, but nobody, messes with Shadetree Mike’s dominoes!

But the fireworks never started. Mike turned the helmet over and calmly filled it with the peanut shells that had been collectin’ in his lap. “Thanks, darlin’,” he said as he handed the filled headgear back to his stunned missus, still without looking up.

“I’m going to mother’s!” Her exit line was bouncing from the walls as she kicked open the door and exploded out onto a defenseless world.

“Yes, dear. And don’t forget my root beer.”

I guess it’s true that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Leastways, that’s the way is seems to work here in Sprung Hinge!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Johns, Hookers, and Bathroom Perverts

I thought that yesterday's news story about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer frequenting a high-priced whore house was very disappointing. Spitzer had earned a reputation as a tough law enforcement official during his eight years as New York's attorney general. His unwise and illegal behavior will probably cost him his job, and it is undoubtedly having a devastating impact on his family - a wife and three teenage daughters.

I have a friend at work, a republican, who observed that if the miscreaants have their wives with them when they admit or deny the misbehavior, it is a certain tell that they are guilty: Bill and Hillary, Congressman and Mrs. Vitter (in her faux leopard skin coat), wide-stance Senator Larry Craig and his Missus, and now Governor Spitzer and spouse. When I pointed out to him that McCain brought his plastic Barbie Doll wife out when he self-righteously denied a romantic involvement with a lobbyist, my friend decided that his theory might have an occasional exception.

Political power must be the most powerful aphrodisiac in existence. Why else would people who have been granted such enormous public trust behave so stupidly? Certainly their families, and ours, deserve better.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hate Mail

I got an email tonight from a college-educated young woman whose work with children I truly respect. Imagine my surprise when I opened her email and found myself confronted with that stupid diatribe about Obama being a Muslim that has been circulating through cyberspace for months. Same old crap. It used his middle name over and over, capitalizing it in case one might have overlooked the significance, and it stated as accepted fact that he was a Muslim and therefore a danger to America. I wrote back and told her that I still loved her, but that her email was pure horse shit. I pointed out that not only is Obama a Christian, he chose to be a Christian - unlike many of us who were born into the religion and exercised little or no choice beyond family dictates.

Do you realize that Hussein is one of the most common names in the world? It ranks right up there with John and Juan. Maybe we should fear the Arabian name Aladin as well!

Do you realize that being a Muslim is not an evil thing, in and of itself? When Europe was going through a thousand years of the Dark Ages - 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D., it was the Muslim world that was perfecting mathematics concepts like Algebra and Geometry, creating literature, developing an understanding of science, and pushing the boundaries of knowledge and the arts.

America has undergone two major acts of terrorism in the past fifteen years. When a squad of Saudis knocked down the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon, President Bush quickly got all of bin Laden's Saudi relatives out of the US and then declared war on a country that had nothing to do with the attacks. It has become, in effect, a holy war that stirs crap emails like the one I received today. If a person is a Muslim, then he or she must be our enemy. The other act of serious terrorism was Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City. Did a holy war follow that blatant attack against the government of the United States of America? Did President Clinton send in the military to clean up the scuzzball militias who hide behind the Constitution to spew their Nazi racist venom. No, but those terrorists were caught - unlike Osama who still roams freely thumbing his nose at Bush and Company. Some good police work would have done more to bring the guilty bastard to justice than this crazy war has done. And, it would have been a hell of a lot cheaper!

The war in the Middle East is costing our government $12 billion a month, damaging our troops and their families in ways that cannot be calculated, and destroying our credibility and standing in the world. January 20th, 2009, cannot come quickly enough!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Russia (7)
Champagne and Caviar

One of the events that I was fortunate enough to attend in Moscow was an evening of Russian folk dance and music. It was a very small venue featuring lively performances by dancers and musicians in colorful costumes. My roommate for the trip, Michael Hyman, was coaxed to the stage where he proved to be a first-rate Jewish ham and had as much fun, if not more, than any of the regular performers. The other highlight of the evening was the wonderful refreshment spread that was laid out during intermission: champagne and caviar! Those Russians were wonderful hosts!

Russia (6)
A Night at the Bolshoi

The premier dance event that I took in while in Russia was the Bolshoi Ballet. The Bolshoi is a large colonnaded building that features an enormous statue of a charioteer driving four wild horses high above the main entrance. The theatre has expansive floor seating and five stories of balconies. The stage is enormous, and the building in its entirety is breathtaking.

Only a small portion of our group went to the Bolshoi. I had never attended a ballet performance before, and knew that the Bolshoi would be a grand place to be initiated into this particular art form. It was time and money well spent. My ticket was less than twenty dollars, and Russian nationals got in cheaper than that in order to encourage participation in the arts and in their national heritage of dance.

My seat was on the third floor balcony directly above the stage. I had an excellent view of the dance, the orchestra, and of the entire theatre. The production for that evening was “Les Sylphides” which had grandiose sets. But it was the dancers who formed the most amazing aspect of the evening. The male dancers, in particular, would leap high into the air and literally defy gravity by their propensity for flight. I remembered a line that Kevin Bacon used in the film, “The Air Up There,” in which he described an African basketball player as having “the hang time of a hot air balloon.” So it was with those flying dancers!

There was what appeared to be a Royal Box at the back of the house on the second story balcony. That evening it housed a couple of prominent Muscovites, whom we learned later were the city’s perpetual mayor, Yury Luzhkov, and his wife. The Luzhkov’s had a grand night at the Bolshoi, and so did one guy from the Missouri Ozarks!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Rusty Pails #22
The Laundrymat

by Rocky Macy

On chilling days – those dark and dreary days
Unfit for sales or chewing fat,
I park my bones where life’s more cheery
Down at the Sprung Hinge Laundrymat. RP

Some of life’s best diversities are free – or leastways inexpensive. Next to sales and Shadetree Mike’s domino table, my favorite hangout is the Sprung Hinge Laundrymat. I manage to stop by once every couple of weeks, whether my overalls and longhandles need the attention or not.

The laundrymat is the town’s cultural center. The bulletin board (a great place to learn about upcoming sales) also displays works by some of the towns most colorful writers. One fellow, a Mr. Anon, has been creating a stream of limericks for years that have left the bulletin board a blazed a literary path across two walls and through the men’s room. At times his versification nearly disappears into the artwork being done by tomorrow’s masters. Their crayon and spray paint splashes enliven the laundry’s interior with color combinations and designs that defy description.

And then there’s the people! The laundrymat is open twenty-hours a day-- every day – so who you see (and what you hear) depends on when you are there. I stagger the times of my visits. This lets me see more folks, and it usually keeps me out of the clutches of Gladys Clench and the town’s other sinister spinsters who cruise the laundrymat in search of helpless bachelors.

The variety of customers is endless – from young mothers with bales of diapers to senior citizens combining their small loads to save money. My favorites, though, are the young singles – the kids just learning how to survive away from home. There’s something downright heartwarming in seeing some youngster with tennis shoes and pimples put two loads of dirty clothes and a box of soap in the dryer!

But then, it doesn’t take much to entertain old Rusty!

Auction Tip: Don’t pass up a sale just because you’re late. The best items are usually held to the last anyway.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Russia (5)
Red Square and the Kremlin

Fifty years ago this month a young American pianist landed in the Soviet Union to take part in the International Tchaikovsky Competition. It was the height of the cold war, and it was uncommon for any American to be in the capital of the Soviet Union for any reason. That young man, Van Cliburn, went on to win the competition, a feat that whipped up so much patriotic fervor at home that when he returned to the United States he was honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Recently I heard an interview with Van Cliburn on National Public Radio where he discussed his trip to the Soviet Union. He said that he had seen a photograph of St. Basil’s Cathedral years before in a picture book and the image had captivated him. As his driver was taking him into Moscow from the airport, he asked her if they could drive by St. Basil’s. The driver was eager to please and honored her guest’s desire. He was amazed at how beautiful the cathedral was under the lights at night.

St. Basil’s is one of the most photographed places in modern Russia, and it is familiar to many Americans, even if they don’t know it by its name. St. Basil’s is the structure with nine brightly colored "onion" domes, several of which are swirled like ice cream cones. The craftsmanship is amazing. The cathedral is a breath taking sight, day or night!

St. Basil’s sits at the south edge of 500,000 square feet of gray-bricked open space commonly referred to as Red Square. The public expanse was originally the market area of old Moscow, and it has remained a central focus of the Russian capital since medieval times. Under the Soviet rule it was a parade ground where political leaders reviewed soldiers and weaponry every year on May Day. Today Red Square hosts rock concerts, public demonstrations, and thousands and thousands of tourists. Our group of social workers made two trips to Red Square during our brief time in Moscow.

Red Square is accessible on foot through the north or south end. We entered past St. Basil’s along the south edge. The cathedral was closed during our visits, but we were still able to walk around the outside, read the plaques, and take pictures. Strolling around that beautiful cathedral was something like taking a walk through a glossy and colorful National Geographic photograph.

The GUM Department Store, actually a three-story indoor mall of hundreds of upscale shops and kiosks, borders the entire eastern edge of Red Square. The very large building is a grand example of late 19th century Russian architecture. The very great length of the structure is covered with massive arched skylights. Our group walked through the GUM shopping and sorting through the expensive Russian wares.

The State Historical Museum is at the north end of Red Square. Although I didn’t manage to take in that opportunity, I understand from those who did that it was very interesting. One of the exhibits was a Viking longboat that was dug out of the Volga River.

The red brick Kremlin Wall borders the entire western edge of Red Square. The Russians honor their heroes by interring them inside of that wall. Yuri Gargarin, the first man in space, is interred there, as is American Jack Reed who was portrayed by Warren Beatty in the movie Reds. But the most famous human remains along the western edge of Red Square are not interred in the Kremlin Wall. The mausoleum of the Soviet Union’s first President, Vladimir Lenin, is a very large, block-shaped structure that is located at the center of the wall. It was from atop this expansive tomb that Soviet leaders stood to watch May Day parades each year. Mr. Lenin is located within the mausoleum wearing a nice suit and encased in glass. Every day thousands of Russian and foreign tourists line up to march down into the structure and walk quickly by the body. Guards in military uniform are present and taking pictures is forbidden. Our group marched dutifully through the somewhat morbid tourist attraction and viewed a piece of history in the flesh – so to speak. Josef Stalin was also encased in Lenin’s Tomb for a few years after his death, but Nikita Krushchev eventually had his carcass taken out and buried in the Kremlin Wall with the lesser deities. Our guide told us that Lenin’s stuffed body is shrinking and that he will, sooner or later, probably be buried in the Kremlin Wall also.

The Kremlin itself is located on the other side of that same wall. It is a large palace-type building that has been the traditional home of Russian government. The day that my group visited the Kremlin, I was at an American clinic with further issues related to my diabetes. Cornelius, one of our British guides, dropped me off at that clinic, and he left me with comprehensive instructions on how to hitchhike to the Kremlin where I would rejoin our group. I managed to navigate my way through the medical treatment and through Moscow without incident, and made it to the Kremlin shortly before my group was ready to leave. I did visit the Kremlin’s gift shop where I bought genuine Russian amber jewelry for my daughter and daughter-in-law.

Coming Next: A Night at the Bolshoi

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Of Fear and Lizard Brains

This past Tuesday, March 4, marked the 75th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inauguration as President. It was at the height of the Great Depression and times were bad. But on that day in Washington D.C. all those many years ago, FDR took the reins of power from Herbert Hoover and assured the country that government would, once again, be the servant of the people. In his inaugural address, he told America that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!"

What a difference seventy-five years makes! Now we have a President who uses fear as his prime motivator. Fear Iraqis, fear al-Quaida, fear Castro, fear Chavez, fear immigrants, fear your government, fear, fear, fear! Fortunately for the world, and America in particular, George W. Bush is quickly becoming irrelevant.

But fear works - and now Billary has picked up the banner. Seventy-five years to the day after FDR reassured us that fear was all we had to fear, Billary won the Texas primary by using her sleazy red phone commercial stressing the need for us to fear anyone but her answering the President's red phone at 3:00 a.m. Arianna Huffington of "The Huffington Post" referred to this red phone tactic as appealing to our lizard brains, the most primal part of the human brain - the one we employed when we were still in the caves - long before the advent of rational thought.

What's wrong with focusing on ideas? Why can't we be free to judge candidates on their vision for America, instead of on their ability to slime? Bill Clinton said (in 2004 while campaigning for John Kerry) that if one candidate offers you hope and the other offers you fear - go with the one offering hope. He was right. The only thing we have to fear is the politician who is trying to scare us from seeing the world as it could be.

No third term!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Russia (4)
The 24th Hostel for Orphan Children

The 24th Hostel for Orphan Children was my favorite stop of the day. This was a place that could have been awful, but wasn’t, largely thanks to the progressive attitudes of the staff. The principal, in particular, was strongly child-focused and was able to make his positive attitude pervasive throughout the facility. (As a former school principal, I knew the questions that I wanted answered, and I was very impressed by his answers and those of the teaching staff and the students.)

The Hostel took in children from age six through nineteen. Institutions such as The House of the Child (discussed earlier) would send their six-year-olds on to organizations of this type. The Hostel was also populated by other orphans, children pulled in from off of the streets, and those who had been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Children picked up on the street by police were first sent to an interim agency that screened them and tried to get as much background information as possible. They were then sent to facilities such as the 24th Hostel for Orphan Children for training, education, and possible adoption. Street children entered with issues that the children who came straight from their homes or orphanages usually did not possess. Their problems often included drug and alcohol use, and a higher degree of difficulty in adjusting to the structured environment.

The principal described adoption as being a complicated and slow process. When temporary or permanent homes were being sought for a child, birth families were normally contacted first and evaluated as a resource. Foster and adoptive parents received no special training, but all were investigated and thoroughly vetted. The government paid these families 1,400 rubles per adoptive or foster child. Most of these legal guardians had children of their own, and had experience with children. The principal stated that a young couple without children would not even be considered as legal guardians. Any child placed in foster care retained all of his or her rights as an orphan.

Due to the fact that these children were older, not many wound up being adopted. We were told that it was more common for foreign nationals to adopt from this facility than for Russian families to adopt. In the ten years preceding our visit, eight of their children had been adopted in Spain, four in Belgium, and one in America. The principal told us proudly that the one sent to America had been a great success.

The main goal of the Hostel was to prepare children to live independently. There was an agreement with a textile factory that trained kids to do factory work, and they also learned cooking and home living skills. Children who completed eleven basic classes had a right at the age of fourteen to go into a profession and have an independent life. Even though the young people had a legal right to leave the Hostel at age fourteen, social workers and others at the school encouraged them to stay. The school considered itself a failure if kids left before being prepared to live on their own.

Youth who finished the program at the Hostel were given housing priority when they exited the program. Everyone who finished was guaranteed a home of some sort, an important perk considering the huge homelessness problem in Russia at that time.

Education was an important function of the Hostel. The principal noted that older students who entered from the streets usually had difficulty hitting a high academic performance level. Social workers and counselors were on staff to help children adapt to the environment. Approximately ten to fifteen percent of the students, however, had gone on to advanced education. The principal said that three former students at the Hostel had become instructors there: a physical education teacher, a softball coach, and a dance instructor.

Youth at the Hostel had to leave at age nineteen, but the government continued to monitor them and offer assistance until they reached the age of twenty-three.

Children at this facility appeared to be treated very well. They told our group that the food was good and that they were fed six times a day – including snacks. They talked about their annual talent contest that featured singing, dancing, and poetry reading. They also talked about sports that were available to them including cross country and Alpine skiing. Sponsors would help send them to the Crimea for Alpine skiing. We were told that the school had won the Area Sports Championship eight times. The staff credited the talent and sports activities as helping problematic kids to fit in at the school.

The principal stressed that this was not an elitist school, but he noted with pride that it had been rated number twelve out of over one hundred similar institutions.

The children and youth were very open to our visit. It was obvious that they enjoyed our interest in what they were doing. It was a comfortable setting with very enthusiastic kids. The principal said that he felt the school was successful because the faculty had created a stress free environment and the young people felt that they had found a home. Many of those kids entered from off of the street, often against their will, and they had to be won over by the staff. The main strategy that the staff used to tame these youths was kindness. The 24th Hostel for Orphan Children stood as a testament to the power of kindness and caring.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rusty Pails # 21
Heck Meets a Sireen

by Rocky Macy

Heck Frye ain’t married, but he ain’t a true bachelor neither. My twice-divorced buddy lost both of his wives to itinerant banjo players, and like any old pond bass that been caught and thrown back a few times, Heck just seems to get more gullible with each passing plug. Leastways, that’s how I see it!

We were at an antique auction the other day going through boxes of junk looking for treasure when a red-headed sireen from the city sashayed over and began sizing us up. After I coughed several times, spit dangerously close to her feet, and wiped my nose on my sleeve, she turned her full attention to Heck.

“Say, good-lookin’.” She drawled, “Where can a girl get a bite to eat?”

Now, Heck may have been good-lookin’, and she may have been a girl, but neither of those conditions had existed since Old Rusty set aside his play clothes for overalls! But disregarding the obvious, Heck told her about the Saturday special at the Spit ‘n Whittle CafĂ©. The last I saw of them they were heading off into the sunset to wax romantic over mounds of country-fried livers and gizzards.

If this gets serious, I don’t know how Heck will get out of it. The town’s done run out of banjo players!

Monday, March 3, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

It was a very long day at the office today, and I was an hour late getting home. After taking time to make enough chicken salad to last several days, I headed to the sofa to veg out on television for a couple of hours. Tonight became movie night, and did I ever pick a couple of winners!

The first was a sick update of Psycho entitled Vacancy. One word title, motel out in the middle of nowhere, desk clerk with issues, late night arrival, no other occupants - you get the idea. This new movie differed from the original in that it didn't feature a Tony Perkins character with a domineering, dead mother. The desk clerk in this one booked people into the "honeymoon suite" and then he and his mechanic buddy would paint their faces and murder the guests. Of course, there was a kinky twist to the killings. The killers had cameras hidden throughout the room in order to make and sell snuff films. Although the movie was bloody awful in its inception, it did offer quite a bit of true Hitchcockian suspense. It was hard to watch, and even harder not to watch! (Watch out! He's in the room with you! Oh, no!)

The next movie on the agenda was the relatively recent 300. This was the story of the Spartan King Leonidas and his valiant stand against the Persian army of King Xerxes at Thermopolae. While the battle itself did occur, it was presented as more of a sweeping Homeric epic than as a military action. The vistas of golden wheat fields, rugged mountains, stormy summer nights, and clashing armies were stunning, but it was the almost constant arterial sprays that really gave the film its color. I will watch this movie again, and when I do my goal will be to tally the battlefield beheadings! Arms and legs were also whacked off with wild abandon, but it was the heads that really rolled! It was two hours of bloody good fun - Sweeney Todd on steroids!

Sleep well, America. I know that I will!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rusty Pails #20
"It's a bird..."

by Rocky Macy

The Sons of the Saucer have been at it again…and this time we made contact!

It was late in the evening with just minutes of good daylight left, and the boys and I were dug in at our secret spot on the creek fishing with a vengeance. Leastways, the Judge and I had our lines in the water. And Shadetree Mike, asleep in his lawn chair, held on to a pole that had long since ceased to interest him or the fish. Heck was preparing the campfire while Truman was spraying root beer fizz into a trench that he had scraped around out tents. What that would protect us from was anybody’s guess, but it did keep Truman happy – and busy!

Baker busted the varnish on the peaceful scene with a howl that threatened teacups and windowpanes clear back to Sprung Hinge. That’s when Truman saw it. He grabbed Heck’s arm as he stumbled backward. They both fell over Shadetree Mike in his lawn chair and landed unceremoniously on the gravel beach twisted into a giant human pretzel.

The commotion was more than any decent fisherman should have to tolerate! But as I turned to confront my rude friends, the Judge pointed beyond the people pile-up to an even more bizarre sight. There, floating lazily out of the sunset toward our camp was…well, it wasn’t a saucer, but it was in the air – and coming at us!

The thing looked like a butterfly, not a flying butterfly, but a big, golden, spectacular butterfly that was standing erect in mid-air. I quickly checked to see that all of my buddies were still breathing, just in case the danged thing coming toward us was an angel!

“It’s a bird!” Heck shouted.

“Or a plane!” The Judge stammered.

“No!” Thundered Shadetree Mike who had come out of the tangle holding Truman’s opry glasses. “It’s Gramma Pinkins!”

And it was! Up in the sky, in an old lawn chair kept aloft by about two dozen helium balloons, sat the most senior citizen of Sprung Hinge, fuzzy blue house shoes and all!

“Hi boys!” The community matriarch yelled. “How about tossing me a line?”

It took several tries (none of us had that much experience in casting “up”), but eventually I managed to hook one of the fuzzy blue house shoes and reel in the biggest catch of the day.

Gramma Pinkins had gone “over the hill” again from the Gristle and Gruel Old Folks Home. And this escape, using balloons from her grandson’s golden wedding anniversary bash, was her cleverest yet! For her efforts, Gramma got to spend the evening on the creek bank with the Sons of the Saucer. We fried fish, drank root beer, and popped balloons until the wee hours of the morning. And after the weaker souls gave out and went to sleep, Gramma Pinkins hitchhiked back to town. Maybe she had bigger fish to fry! Leastways, livelier ones!

Auction Tip: It’s always a good idea to arrive at yard sales early. Unlike auctions, the good stuff at yard sales will often be among the first items to go.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Russia (3)
The House of the Child

The House of the Child was one of the most disturbing places that I experienced while in Russia. It was a large building in Moscow that housed and educated youth who had no parental support. One of workers at the institution said that the parents of many of the children simply refused to take them home. Other parents were in prison or had lost their parental rights. Some children came in from maternity homes.

There were 100 children at The House of the Child. They ranged in age from birth to four or five years of age. If they were not adopted by age five, they were transferred into facilities for older youth. Our guides told us that there were 25 facilities like this one in Moscow.

The entire operation was similar to an American group home. The children lived on the premises, and it was staffed twenty-four hours a day with staff members working twelve-hour shifts. The curriculum was, according to staff, individualized to meet the needs of each child. All teachers were graduates of teacher training colleges. Children were placed in groups of sixteen, and each group had two educators and a nurse.

Before the trip I had done some reading on the importance of bonding and attachment, especially bonding between mother and child. I had also read a story in a popular magazine about a family who had adopted a two-year-old boy from Russia. The child had been fine for a couple of years, but then began acting out toward his adoptive mother. Although there had been several attempts to provide psychological assistance to the family, the mother eventually murdered the child. The prevalent theory on the child’s behavior toward the mother, which was extreme, was that he had been raised in relative isolation in an orphanage for his first two years, with minimal human contact. The article’s author stated that infants in Russian orphanages were often kept in tight swaddling by themselves and only had contact with adults for physical necessities such as feeding, bathing, and diaper changes, and even at those times orphanage staff did not show affection to the infants. The young boy had missed the crucial experience of bonding with an adult, especially a nurturing female, during his infancy, and he consequently could not form an attachment to his adoptive mother. She, in turn, had wanted a child desperately enough to adopt from overseas, and could not cope with the fact that he rejected her.

We went upstairs to see the bays where the children slept. We were also shown a kitchen where some of the kids were learning to help with the cooking. But the image that sticks with me most clearly was the nursery. We were allowed to step into a large bay with fifteen or more bassinettes, each containing a tightly swaddled infant. Most were quiet, but many of those were awake just staring into space. There was no interaction occurring between the staff and the babies. Later, one of the administrators at the orphanage said matter-of-factly, “All of our children are mentally retarded.” Small wonder!

Adoption was a very controversial topic in Russia in the early 1990’s. The Soviet System had fallen, and the Russian government was still struggling to define itself. There was a strong international demand for babies, particularly Caucasians. Having Russian children adopted out of the country was a direct affront to Russian pride, so the government was beginning to create obstacles to the process. The result was that by the time all of the various bureaucracies were satisfied, the infants would be two-years-old or older - and already missed the critical period where they needed to be bonding with adults.

The workers at this facility told us that their children were being adopted by Swedes, Italians, and especially Americans. All potential adoptions had to be cleared through Central Adoptions in Moscow.

The House of the Child was a sad experience. The children were living in a place that looked and felt like an institution. There was little warmth and love in evidence, especially with the infants. Fortunately, our next stop of the day would go a long way toward restoring my waning faith in humanity.

Coming Next: The 24th Hostel for Orphan Children