Al Batt: The good old days

Published 7:05 am Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Echoes from the Loafers’ Club Meeting

I’m cutting down that big tree in my yard.

Be careful. Which way do you want it to fall?

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Driving by Bruce’s drive

I have a wonderful neighbor named Bruce. Whenever I pass his driveway, thoughts occur to me, such as: I could have been driving a Wienermobile. I’d missed the cutoff date for applying to Oscar Mayer for a job as a hotdogger and representing that brand as a goodwill ambassador across the country. That job offers a company car — the Wienermobile.

A woman living in a 3,800-square-foot home in Millarville, Alberta, has a $1.7 million three-story home with beautiful mountain views she is offering a chance to own for $25 and a heartfelt letter of 350 words or fewer explaining why someone wants the house. At least 68,000 people must enter the contest.

I taught a writing class in Marshall. I should have told the students about the house in Alberta. A nice young man in the class asked if he could have his photo taken with me. It turned out that Axel is the grandson of a best friend of mine who had died much too young. It certainly took my mind off the temperature, snow and wind direction. I became reflective, I wanted to tell Axel how much his grandfather’s friendship meant to me, but there aren’t enough words in the world. The best I could do was to be thrilled to stand next to him in a photo.

The good old days

I put the final touches of peanut butter on a slice of toast as I brewed tea and listened to the radio. I was multitasking. The news on the radio was a series of verbal punches to the stomach.

The news gave way to music. I listened to John Prine sing. He is one of my favorites. “Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down… and won,” he sang. Coincidentally, I was staring at a bowl of oatmeal as I added a bit of honey to it.

I talked to several friends via telephone. It was up to the day’s predicted low — 29 degrees below zero. We needed to face the cold facts, so we said the required things: “Cold enough for you?” “At least the sun is shining,” and concluding with, “Stay warm.”

One caller talked of doing livestock chores early that morning. I miss that, but only in my memories. I loved getting into the barn on a cold day and experiencing the welcome warmth and that pleasant smell of cows and fodder. The worst part for me was when there were water problems. Pumps and pipes would freeze and there were many things more fun than playing in water at 29 below.

We talked of plugging cars in to heat the block or fluids and setting an alarm clock to remind us to start a vehicle every couple of hours if we’d intended to use it the next day after a gelid night.

These are the good old days.

Nature notes

I heard a great horned owl pair hooting. It was a nifty duet. He said, “I eat skunks.”

She replied, “Me, too.”

Great horned owls do eat skunks.

By the time I’d staggered outside to answer the call of the world, the wind had picked up. It was a lazy wind. It went through me instead of around me. I moved through the 13 to 40 inches of hard snow like a snail with rheumatism. I thought of a day years ago when I’d visited an aunt and uncle in Iowa when similar precipitation covered the ground. Their neighbor was feeding the birds with an odd feeder. She’d stuck a plunger handle first in the snow. I was taken with the ingenuity, but hoped the plunger was a new one.

The cardinal is the first at the feeder in the morning and the last at the same feeder when the day’s light has grown dim. A cardinal’s low-light vision must be good. I watched a male cardinal feeding goldfish in a friend’s pond one summer day. The gaping mouths of the fish triggered the cardinal’s instinct to feed. This urge to fill an open mouth transcended species.

I saw a pileated woodpecker. It was a male. The male has a red forehead and mustache. Those are black on a female. I heard the double squawk of a rooster pheasant. “Cow cat,” it crowed. A sign that daylight is lengthening.

Meeting adjourned

“Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually. Maybe the desire to make something beautiful is the piece of God that is inside each of us.”— Mary Oliver