Tag Archives: death

It Has Been Said That No Good Turn Goes Unpunished… Also Known As – A Day That Will Live In Infamy. December 7, 2016.

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“Hey, you guys need help?” I asked through the rolled down window of my Tacoma.  My wife and daughter and I had just rolled up on two very large pigs strolling down the middle of Main Street in Garfield, Washington, looking for all the world like a mother and daughter on a Sunday stroll after their church potluck.  My daughter had broken her ankle earlier in the year and we were just returning from an appointment with the very tan orthopedic doctor who spent half the year fishing in Mexico and the other half the year taking money from people whose daughters are sure they know how to long board, but realize too late that it’s a lot harder than it looks. He was sure he could fix it… for a price.  It had been a long morning and I was looking forward to being home.

“Dude! Yes.”  He was dressed in ratty blue jeans, a filthy tan hoodie, and had a Steeler’s stocking cap pulled low over a greasy, brown, party in the back.  He weighed all of 120 pounds and his tattoo to tooth ratio was about two to one.   I jumped out of my truck.  I was thankful that I wasn’t driving my Prius because nobody in Eastern Washington or Idaho trusts a guy in a Prius (best car ever btw).  I slowly walked towards the animals with an eye to getting in front of the 300-pound beasts.  Tattoo guy jumped around, yelling and waving his arms trying to get the pigs to do something – what, I’m not sure, but from the looks of it he was trying to stampede them into the sunset.  As we danced with the pigs a stocky guy in a lambskin jacket and Carharts came out of a large, brick building and began yelling at him.  Over the door stood a huge statue of a full grown, red and white Hereford steer.  “Hmm.  That’s kind of cool.” I thought.

“Dang it, Billie (only he didn’t say dang it).  Didn’t I tell you to let me know when you was going to let the pigs out of the trailer?”  Billie redoubled his jumping and whistling effort, trying to look like he was doing something important or at least trying to give the impression that he working really hard to rectify the situation.  He never looked at yelling guy as he flailed, but hollered back, “They just jumped out!” The pigs ambled on ignoring all three of us.  The guy, whom I assumed was Billie’s boss, saw me and yelled,  “Try to cut them off and head them back this way.”  I could tell by the tone of his voice that he knew I was an experienced swineherd.  It was probably my running shoes, Kuhl pants and the black Vandal’s sweatshirt I was wearing, but I had him completely fooled because in actuality my only experience with swine was when I helped my friend Gary feed and run his fair pig back in high school.

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Most of my friends in high school belonged to 4H and had some variety of fair animal they were working on.  Being the new guy from the Great White North, I had no idea how and no desire to want to learn what it took to have a fair animal.  Heck, I had just seen cows up close for the first time and wanted nothing to do with them.  They were big and kicky and unpredictable.  When my friends sold their animals to generous farmers at the fair auction it seemed that the most money was made by owning a steer, but even though you made a lot less money, running a pig seemed to me to be the way to go.  From what I could tell, you just fed them, walked them around a bit, brought them to the fair, washed them and then used a big stick to poke them around a ring until you got a ribbon.  Then you sold them, made your two hundred bucks and walked away.  Pig are said to be intelligent, but in actuality,  they’re not all that smart.

Because of my “extensive” training I did know enough not to make any fast motions or sudden movements.  Boss guy began clicking softly to the pigs like he knew them.  They hesitated and looked at him like he might have had food.  It was enough of a distraction for me to find my way to the front of them where I stretched out my arms in a gesture that looked like I wanted a hug, but all pigs know this arm position to mean “none shall pass.”  I walked slowly towards them in an effort to get them to stop and turn.

I’ve seen large, snotty, aggressive swine before, the kind that will grind you into the mud, then sit on you until you drown and then eat you, but these weren’t like that and looked for all the world like they were going out for an afternoon stroll to check on Mildred, their aging aunt, before heading home for their evening bowl of Purina Nutristart and a belly scratch from their owner Tammy, a blue eyed, blonde haired little girl who was named after Tammy Wynette because her mom just loved the song Stand By Your Man since it always reminded her of how she stood by little Tammy’s dad even though he was a no-good drunk.  Tammy’s dad didn’t drink any more, but gambled a lot and Tammy’s mom didn’t really know which was worse.

Big Wilbur stopped and stared at me with his close-set, beady eyes.  Little Wilbur bumped into his rear end, stopped and looked up too.  Dumb and Dumber I thought as I stared at them, but there was an intelligence in Big Wilbur’s eyes that belied any dumbness.  He eyed me for a good long time as if weighing his options: run right through the old guy with glasses or head back to the flailing tattoo guy. I raised my arms up and down and took a step toward him.   He turned and ambled off towards the sidewalk with little Wilbur following.  I slowly walked with them and little by little was able to turn them back towards the trailer out of which they had just made their escape.  Things were looking very, very good and I would soon be on my way.  I was already patting myself on the back for having done what I considered to be my very smug and helpful good deed of the day.

 

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Clicking Boss guy was shaking a big silver bowl of food in such a way even I thought sounded really appetizing and the pigs doubly so.  They picked up their pace a bit as he backed his way towards the metal trailer ramp.  He backed up the ramp and Big Wilbur followed him docilely in.  Little Wilbur put one hoof on the metal and proceeded to stumble and slip and fall down the ramp with a huge crash.  Flailing Billie, seizing what he thought was a prime opportunity to redeem himself, rushed little Wilbur, grabbed him by his haunches and tried to force the 300-pound beast into the trailer.  Little Wilbur was taken aback by being grabbed on the behind and kicked at Billie.  By this time Big Wilbur had heard enough.  He caught the bowl in his teeth and turned to run.  The bowl caught the edge of the trailer sending it clashing to the floor like a dinner bell coming off its hinges.  Both animals squealed and bolted, knocking me and Flailing Billie to the ground.

Boss guy shot out of the trailer, picked me up by my shirt, shoved a pig board into my hands (a pig board is a big wooden board used to separate pigs when they fight) and pushed me up the sidewalk to try to get in front of the pigs who were trotting off (yes, pigs do trot) down the center of the road again, stopping “rush hour” traffic which consisted of two grain trucks, one bank-out wagon, the Avista bucket truck and a field sprayer.  Everyone bailed out of their vehicles and tried to stop the stampeding pigs.   Avista guy was knocked over, bank-out wagon guy was trampled, and as the animals came closer to field sprayer guy, he made a feeble attempt to stop them, thought better of it, then just hugged the side of his truck and let them run on by.

We all watched as the pigs slowed and turned onto the porch of a beautifully landscaped home on the north side of the road.  They went through the gate and up onto the porch like they owned the place.   They didn’t.  Now they were trapped, but what do you do with pigs on a porch?  About this time I turned, looking for some guidance from Clicking Boss Guy.  When I saw him I had an inkling that these weren’t little Tammy’s 4H pigs and I knew instantly that things had just gotten very, very serious.  Boss guy was no longer clicking softly to the pigs.  He was pissed and it wasn’t just his furrowed brow and angry eyes that clued me into the impending doom. It was more the AR-15 that he was walking down the middle of the street with.

There are some people who know how to hold a gun and there are some people on whom guns just look good, like they’ve been a part of their lives for a very long time.   Big Gun Boss Guy was the latter.  He looked for all the world like a guy straight out of Lone Survivor.  A huge dust cloud swirled across the road and as he stepped through it, the sun glinted off his yellow shooting glasses and, if his arms had been bare, they would have glistened with the sweat of exertion, but the pigs weren’t done yet.

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Everyone was helping now, calling to the pigs and circling around to block off every means of escape and in all the excitement the pigs bolted off the porch.  For all our bravado, none of us got in their way.  Their hooves dug large chunks of paint off the porch and they galloped (yes, pigs gallop) back towards the trailer and safety.  We all kind of trotted after them.  The pigs had separated now and Little Wilbur stopped in the middle of the road looking for direction from his friend, but Big Wilbur had moved on.  Big Gun Boss Guy was having none of it.  He raised his rifle and took aim.  “No Good!  No clear shot! Abort firing.”  He was talking to himself now.  Little Wilbur seeing his friend, jogged (yes, pigs jog) over and stood by him.  They continued to move towards the trailer.  Big Gun Boss Guy pointed at me with two fingers and then pointed forward.  No words were spoken, but I took my pig board and my flaccid upper body and “sprinted” forward keeping to the sidewalk side of the pigs.  They suddenly stopped.   Big Gun Boss Guy held up a fist – the universal sign for everyone to halt.  We halted, all eyes trained on him.

With two fingers he pointed at Avista Truck guy and then at the pigs.  Avista Truck Guy nodded and moved slowly forward.   He pointed with both hands at everyone else and motioned for them to fan out and they all fanned out like a high school flag corp lining up on the sidelines behind the football team just before the halftime show.  He motioned for them to follow behind and, as one, they all moved slowly forward like zombies from Walking Dead.

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The pigs saw what was happening and turned towards me.  I held my pig board with one hand and with the other wagged my finger at them and with my best Dikembe Mutombo impression said, “No, no, no pigs!  NOT IN MY HOUSE!”  They sneered at me.  All three of us knew I didn’t stand a chance.  I braced myself for the onslaught.   I was not going to be the weak link that let my team down.  Lives were at stake and I took my duty seriously.  The pigs rolled their eyes (yes, pigs roll their eyes) and continued their journey to the safety of the trailer. Big Gun Boss Guy nodded at me in approval and I stood a little taller.

I was starting to relax a bit now.  The pigs were moving in the right direction and they would soon be back into the trailer and on their way home to Tammy.  Big Gun Boss Guy had relaxed a bit, too, and I could tell he was relieved that he didn’t have to shoot the pigs in the neighbor’s yard or in the middle of the street. What a mess that would have been, not to think about all the paperwork for insurance.  We had won the day with an overwhelming show of force.  This battle would have a happy ending.

The pigs wandered back to the side of the building and stopped in the shade.  Even though there was snow on the ground they were tired and hot and looked for all the world like they just needed a drink.  I looked over at Dream Crusher and Molly and they looked so proud.  Molly was even filming my heroics.  What an amazing day of helping.  I would remember this for a long time.  What a day.  “Stop!”  Big Gun Boss Guy had pointed at me and signaled to hold my place.  I did.  I was ready to be done with this and go home.  I leaned my board against the side of the trailer and turned to go.

Big Gun Boss Guy held the gun at his shoulder and he was drawing a bead on Big Wilbur.  Both pigs just stared at him.  There was a sound like a gun shot because, well, it was a gun shot, and then another sound like a gun shot and I heard Dream Crusher and Molly scream.  When I looked, Big Wilbur and Little Wilbur were peacefully sleeping next to each other in the snow.

Big Gun Boss Guy lowered his gun and looked at me.  “All righty then!” I said as nonchalantly as possible. He nodded and I gave him a wink and double finger guns, then realized what I was doing, thought better of it, and kind of feebly waved as he turned to walk away.  He slung the rifle across his back and made his way towards the building.  I walked in the general direction of my truck not taking my eyes off him, but as he entered the building the trance was broken and my eyes swung up to the big steer above the doorway.  On the side of the building, right above the enormous bovine, in big white letters it read: “Garfield Meats.”

I got into my truck and sat there for a few moments trying to process what had just happened.  I have hunted and seen things killed, but never on Main Street, Anywhere, USA and I was a bit in shock.  I felt like I had been transported a hundred years into the past and, except for the AR15, I could have been standing in Maycomb, Alabama watching Atticus Finch kill the rabid dog before it bit anyone.  “Well, that was a bit surreal, wasn’t it?” I said with a lightness I didn’t feel.  I looked at Dream Crusher.  She was pale, looking for all the world like she wanted to kill me for stopping.  I nodded, started the truck, and looked at Molly in the rear view mirror.  Tears were streaming down her cheeks.  “Oh, honey.  I’m sorry.  Are you okay?” I asked. “He killed them?” was all she could say.  I put the truck in gear and pulled back onto the road.  “No, honey.  Those were tranquilizer darts.  The pigs are just sleeping.  Very soon they will be on their way back home to Tammy.”  Only I didn’t tell her “on the way back to Tammy to be put in her freezer.”  Some things are better left unsaid.

 

Four Days Shy of 67 Mother’s Days

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January 31, 1926 – May 7, 2014

Her children rise and call her blessed.

My mom passed away just four days shy of her 67th Mother’s Day.  She was 88 and she was a saint.  If you have read any of my stories about my dad, you will know that no truer words were ever spoken.

It might seem odd, but I like to read obituaries.  They are sobering and give one perspective on how tenuous life really is.  Rarely are they ever completely truthful or give the entire story about what kind of person the deceased really was.  In every obituary the deceased family member was loved by everyone, loved life, always had a ready smile and never got angry.  Invariably, the person will be missed by every single person who knew him or her.   It’s just what you do when you remember someone.  You accentuate the best and forget the rest.  It’s a delicate balance and absolutely to be expected.   However, there is no delicate balance with my mom.  This is the honest truth – she was a saint.

She lived the last years of her life in a community of retired people (the last eight years in a nursing home) and outlived most of them.  Few of her friends are left to remember her.  But, her kids remember.

I would like you to meet my mom.

Gertrude Lorraine Bentley was born in 1926.  I don’t know much about her life because she never really talked about it, and I never asked, but what I’ve pieced together is that she was born into a migrant farm family that moved west during the Depression.  They were a family of dusty, fruit-pickers out of The Grapes of Wrath.  Her home life wasn’t ideal: her father drank and her mother slept at a friend’s house because of it.

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Mom and Dad and my brother Dick

Mom was a teenager when she and Dad met.   They were polar opposites and  I can only assume that he swept her off her feet with his enormous personality.  He must have seemed like the brass ring in an otherwise mundane merry-go-round. By the time I heard the stories of my dad getting into knife fights and brawls at bars with his then pregnant wife (my mother) in the fray, I couldn’t imagine it.  This woman with graying hair, who loved nothing more than to sit and read James Herriot novels and drink coffee or play endless games of cribbage with her son, didn’t seem capable of wanting to smoke cigarettes, while sitting in a bar watching her husband fight.  All I can imagine is that he must have seemed like an amusement ride compared to the life she previously led.  She must have seemed like a breath of fresh air to my dad.

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Mom and me.

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Mom, with her mom, and my sibling before I was born

I met her when she was 38.  I had just been born and from everything I pieced together later in life, I was a huge accident.  But in her mind, I was not a mistake.  She told me one time that even though Dad was really, really mad about her being pregnant (why he would be mad when he had a part in the process is beyond me) her arms ached to hold me.  It truly is all any child can ask of a mother – to be loved so much that her arms ached if you weren’t in them.

I remember bits and pieces of my childhood.  I remember helping her make cookies.  I remember Swedish pancakes with powdered sugar and lemon juice squeezed out of a plastic lemon.  I remember one-eyed Egyptian eggs.  I remember sitting with her in a rocker.  I remember the squeaky sound of her cleaning our huge picture windows and walking up and down Madison Avenue with her lifting my arm up so I wouldn’t trip going over the curb.  I can only see dimly the moments of her caring for my needs, but I am left with a vivid and overwhelming sense, like a technicolor hand-crocheted afghan, of how much she liked me.

Most kids know that their parents love them.  It is an entirely different thing to know that your parents like you.  I know that my mom liked me.  This is especially telling because in my mind I wasn’t a particularly likeable kid.  What an amazing thing for me to come home from school knowing that even though I may have had a really, really bad day, there was someone at home who couldn’t wait to see me and actually liked being around me.  She was my refuge and there is no greater blessing than that for a kid.

There are life lessons to be learned from my mother if we are wise enough to listen.  She never read any books on how to raise children.  She was permissive in her parenting, she never physically disciplined me, she was a good cook, but still allowed me to eat all the things that weren’t good for me, and she was virtually incapable of helping me or my siblings get through those awkward years where you don’t know why your feet are suddenly huge or why funny bumps are breaking out all over your face.  But, the one thing she was capable of doing she did in spades – she loved us.  Her love seemed to erase all the things she wasn’t able to do otherwise and it had a profound impact on all of us.  Her children have risen up because of it and called her blessed.

I never heard a single complaint about having to take care of any of us, and, in all my years, I never heard her say a harsh thing about me or any of my siblings.  She just didn’t have it in her.  She built up her children and never tore them down. She worked tirelessly to make sure we were well fed and clothed and had what we needed.

Mom was happy being at home.  Dad wasn’t.  He always wanted to be doing something.  She wasn’t particularly fond of going places, but she went.  If we picnicked, she packed, cooked and cleaned up when we got home.  If we fished, she processed the fish.  If we clammed, she cleaned them all.  If we crabbed, she cooked them.  She held our coats when we got hot and our shopping bags if we didn’t want carry them. There were times she was so overloaded that she looked like a Sherpa going up Mount Everest.  She bandaged my cuts and washed my wounds. She watched over the treasures that I found on the beach so no one would take them.  I took great advantage of her kindness, but that was Mom.  She gave and gave, but never required anything in return.  She was a saint.

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Yes, that’s a football. Yes, I did share my sister’s room for years.

She spent her entire life putting her children first.  Her arms ached to hold me as a baby, but her arms ached to hold all her kids.  All of her children have the same sense of kindness and affection towards her that was gained when she rocked us to sleep as children or read to us when she put us to bed.  She wasn’t the smartest or the prettiest (though she was both smart and pretty), but she loved us unconditionally.  This love kept me from doing some really stupid things as I grew up.  In my world, the worst thing I could do was hurt my mom and the first thought that came into my head when I was tempted to do something stupid was, how will this make mom feel?  I feared disobeying my dad.  I felt self-loathing when I did something to hurt my mom.

She only raised her hand against me one time.  I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but to have done something bad enough to bring her to violence against one of her children, it must have been something really, really irritating.  She swatted me on my fully clothed back end as I ran by her and I cried.  It did not hurt even a single bit, but knowing that I had done something to her that made her get angry at me was enough to break me down.  In my world it was a turning point and it never happened again.

Some might say that she was living vicariously through her children and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was (living with Earl made us all want to live a different life somehow), but mostly she wanted to see her children happy.  She didn’t have much power because of my dad, but what power she did have – the power to love us – she used to great advantage in our lives.

There are turning points in a family’s history that mark a drastic change in that family.  Mom was that turning point in our family. In fact, because of her, our family tree grew an entirely new branch.   Most of my dad’s relatives were cut from a different mold and, how do I say this delicately, a bit rougher around the edges.  Had we been left alone with Dad, or Dad and the kind of woman that notoriously marry men like my dad, I know things probably would have turned out markedly different in all of our lives – think orange jumpsuits and not being able to vote.  Mom saved us in so many ways.

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Allison helping grandma

When I got married and had kids of my own I realized exactly how difficult it is to be kind and patient all the time (let me say impossible) and I always marveled at how easy my mother made it seem.  All my kids got to know their Grandma Dudie, but my boys got to know her the best.  She would sit for hours with them playing checkers or cards or listening to them tell stories or reading them books.   I could only take a few minutes of any of this, but she was content to just sit and be with them.  My girls didn’t get as many quality years with her before Alzheimer’s took her mind, but she loved them like she loved me even in her affliction.  I know her arms ached for them, too.

As we all got older, the times together as a family became less frequent, but when we were together Mom was still the buffer.  Dad would be unreasonable and demanding and she would deal with him and then come back to the game we were playing at the dining room table.  I can still see her in my mind laughing uncontrollably over some silly inside joke.  It was a constant goal to get mom going and when she did, we all laughed until we couldn’t breathe.  These were the best of times and the worst of times.

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Wesley getting some alone time with his Grandma Dudie

Even as Alzheimer’s took her mind from her, she was still sweet and she was still the buffer that kept us from the full force of Dad.  She wasn’t quite as sweet to him as she used to be and was finally able to stand up for herself (we were all secretly a bit happy about this) as the filters dropped from her mind.  But to her kids, she was still the same.  Even though she forgot things and asked the same questions over and over, her love for us still shone in her eyes and to the very end she was still one of the nicest people any of us had ever known.

Goodbye was always hard on Mom

Goodbye was always hard on Mom (and Christian always got teary)

Dad died three years ago and there was a huge sigh of relief from his kids.  I know that’s a terrible thing to say, but he was a trial and when Mom went to the nursing home eight years ago, the buffer was gone and we got the unfiltered, crack cocaine version of Dad.  Alzheimer’s is a terrible thing. It was made even more terrible for us because it took the parent that we all wanted to have around longer and sidestepped the one that made life difficult. The one who wanted nothing more than to sit and enjoy her children was taken away far too early.

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Still beautiful

It’s sad, but there it is.  Now she has passed.  As we drove to be with her during her last moments I wondered what one was supposed to do when sitting with a dying parent.  I now have a role model to emulate. My sister Betty was by her side and did the most beautiful thing.  She sat next to her, held her hand and talked about what a great mother she was and spoke the names of her kids and grandkids as she breathed her last.  What was most important to my mom in life was whispered in her ear at her death.  I am thankful that she was my mom and sad that her life is over, but at the same time I am happy and relieved for her to finally be free.  Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are her legacy.  Well done, Mom.