My Favorite Porcupine

We named him Darius. I’m not sure why. I said we needed to come up with a name for our pet porcupine and Karl suggested it.

Every morning and every evening Darius would waddle out from his spot under the chicken coop and eat apples. For a wild animal, he was surprisingly docile. I could walk close enough for pictures. He would look at me blandly and continue munching his apple.

We first saw Darius when I let our dog out of the house one evening. Maggie ran straight towards the chicken coop. I watched her do her play-with-me dance that she does with our cat sometimes. A crouch, a pounce, a jump back – tail wagging the whole time. When I went to investigate, I saw the porcupine.

“Call Maggie,” I yelled back to the house, and the kids did. The last thing I wanted was a visit to the vet for quill removal. Fortunately, Maggie is fairly obedient and went back inside. Darius waddled into the woods.

On successive nights, I watched him squeeze into a gap underneath the unused chicken coop.

I warned my brother and sister-in-law about the porcupine. They have two puppies that are still learning obedience. Bear and Bozeman might have been more aggressive in wanting to play with a porcupine.

Toward the end of Darius’s visit, he stopped going under the chicken coop. He stayed under the apple tree all day, nose toward the trunk, sleeping.

One day, someone threw an apple at him.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“I wanted to see if he was alive” was the response.

He was.

But his behavior worried me. It’s not normal for a porcupine to sit out in the open all day.

I called the animal control officer.

“I can come right over and shoot him,” he said.

“I was thinking more along the lines of trapping him,” I replied. I couldn’t stomach the thought of him shooting Darius.

Years ago the police came to shoot a sick raccoon in our backyard in Cooperstown. We saw it staggering around in broad daylight. My boys watched from the window while the policeman “took care of it.” But nobody was attached to the raccoon. We hadn’t watched him eat apples or named him or anything.

The animal control officer said, “I can’t get a trap there until tomorrow morning.”

I walked up to explain matters to Darius. He was still sitting nose-to-the-trunk under the apple tree, but he bristled right up when I approached. It was the first time I had seen him do that. I decided not to tell him. I just studied him a while, wanting to store him in my memory.

Later in the day, I saw him trekking across the backyard and into the orchard. He picked a dwarf apple tree and climbed it.

Later Bud saw him the street and head down into the pasture.

In the evening, Bud and I walked around the apple trees in the pasture looking for him. I called animal control and told him the porcupine was gone.

“He was my favorite porcupine,” Mary said, when I told her.

“Mine, too,” I said.

That’s what happens when you get to know somebody.

 

Rescues

I draw the line at worms. I don’t rescue worms in the driveway after it rains.

Mary does that.

One day this spring she went to my brother’s house to feed his puppies and take them out, and it took her much longer than usual.

“Was there a problem?” I asked, picturing some sort of puppy mischief.

“No,” she said, “I rescued a worm in his driveway. Then I saw another and another. I couldn’t stop.”

I rescue red efts when I see them.

They’re just so darn cute.

More often than not, though, I see eft fatalities (eftalities?) as I walk our road.

One day in May, Mary and I found a confused turtle on the lawn. It was heading up the hill, away from the river and the road, but it had a long way to go before it reached any shade.

I texted my brother. “Hey — would you like a turtle to take into the classroom?” He’s known as Mr. Science, and, in the spring, often brings nature-y things to school.

By the time he answered, though, the turtle was gone.

A few days later I saw what I think was the same turtle crossing the road.

“No!” I yelled to it, and turned to bring my groceries in the house. When I got back out, I was too late. The turtle had already been run over by a car.

Sadly, I picked up the poor turtle, its shell cracked and turtle blood oozing out, and carried it across the road to our compost heap. I nestled it down in a little shady spot, returning it to the earth — ashes to ashes, dust to dust, you know, but without a true grave.

The next day, when I brought compost over, the turtle was gone.

Honestly, I thought a predator ate it. Or maybe the crows who are always raiding the compost decided to have a little turtle meat with their moldy bread.

Fast forward to today. I was waiting to cross the road to get the mail while a steady stream of cars drove past in both directions.  After the last car, I took one last look down the road to make sure the coast was clear.

A turtle was crossing.

I sprinted to save that turtle.

The crack starts by its head and arcs left to its front leg

How it had made it as far as it did with all those cars was a mystery to me. When I carefully picked it up to carry it across, I saw it had already been injured in the past.

Was it the same turtle? The cracks in the shell were exactly where I remembered them.

I brought it across to the compost heap. It’s a safe place.

I visited it later in the day. It was in a different spot and had fresh injuries.

I guess turtles are slow learners.

Or the world is a dangerous place.

Or both.

Lately we’ve had a new visitor to our yard. I promise not to help it cross the road.

 

 

 

Sweet Corn

The other day I drove over to the local farmstead to buy some sweet corn for dinner. While I was selecting my ears and putting them in a bag, another man stopped to also buy corn.

He looked at me for a long moment and said, “Used to be a doctor on the River Road sold the best sweet corn around for a dollar a dozen.”

He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. He was a local man who obviously recognized me. He had the advantage there.

“I had forgotten all about that,” I said, and laughed at the pleasure of remembering. “You know why we stopped, don’t you?”

He shook his head, so I told him the story. Not many people know it.

When I was growing up, we used to sell sweet corn. I think it started as a way to give my sibling and me a little income and some responsibility.

Through the 70s, we all worked at it. Even after we were grown, it continued, although I’m not sure how.

These photos are from a vacation Bud and I took to Cooperstown in 1984.

Setting out corn 1984

Bud 1984

At the time, my parents had a beautiful dog, a Briard named Natalie Bumpeaux.

Natalie

Natalie had the goofy good looks of a sheepdog, but also the protective nature of a working dog. She loved my mom and tolerated the rest of the family.

Mom and Natalie

In the early 90s, a woman stopped to get corn from the table, but there were no bags, so she walked up the driveway and onto the side porch. She looked around and found a bag. When she headed back to the corn table, Natalie ran up behind her and bit her in the calf.

My mother heard her yelling and came out to see what was happening. The woman told her that the dog had bitten her. My mother offered to take her to the hospital, or call, or make sure she was properly cared for. My mother was, after all, a nurse. The woman insisted she was fine and left.

Later that evening we were at the emergency room with one of our boys. We saw the woman who had been bitten — Bud recognized her because he had been out at the house when it happened — and she was in agony. She was limping around the waiting room and loudly complaining to anyone who would listen. She wouldn’t sit and put her leg up. She was on parade.

We called my parents and told them she was at the ER. They again offered to cover any bills.

Fast forward a month or two, the sheriff pulled up to the house.

“I’m really sorry,” he said, “but I have to give you this.”

It was a notice that my parents were being sued.

I have to remind myself that she wasn’t really a local. They had a local summer-house, but weren’t invested in the community. Neighbors just don’t do that.

My parents’ homeowner’s insurance took care of it, so I don’t know the exact outcome.

But it ended the corn business and left our family feeling gut-punched.

Natalie went to live on a farm that was more isolated than where my parents live, and with people who knew and understood Briards.

On the road of life, the incident was only a pothole.

And, honestly, it was nice to be recognized and kindly remembered by someone buying corn the other day.

Dan and Phil (or is it Phil and Dan?)

I vaguely remember several months ago Mary telling me about this thing. It was some YouTube people or something.  But it was in Schenectady.

“Go ahead and get some tickets,” I told her, “and we’ll figure it out when it gets closer.”

It got closer.

And closer.

I forgot all about it.

About a week before, Mary said, “Remember that thing?”

I didn’t.

She reminded me.

“I don’t know how we can do it,” I said. “Could you try to sell the tickets?”

The morning of she came to me with the saddest of sad faces. Don’t misunderstand — she didn’t beg. I could see that this was important to her so I came up with a plan. It turns out we’ll-figure-it-out-when-it-gets-closer means that I drive her.

“What is this thing we’re going to?” I asked while driving that night. Mary tried to explain, but I am NOT of the YouTube generation. I don’t understand it. At all.

We arrived in Schenectady, parked the car, and Mary said, “I think we should just follow all the teenage girls.”

So we did.

Truthfully, I still don’t know what it was I went to. Screaming girls? Two guys on stage? The closest analogy I could come up with is Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

I feel asleep during the show. At one point I think they showed a picture of the most disinterested parent, and I was surprised that it wasn’t a picture of me.

But I tried.

And I rewrote “The Things We Do For Love” in honor of that night.

“Hey, Mom, remember when I bought a couple tickets
To hear some YouTube guys putting on a show?
You said that I could go, so I bought two.”
(The things we do for love, the things we do for love)

“Hey, Mom, I need someone to drive me to the show now.
Remember? YouTube guys? Their names are Dan and Phil.”
I looked at Mary’s face and knew this was
A thing I’d do for love (the things we do for love)

Like driving to a show, when you know
It’s a long way to go
And your eyes are drooping ‘cause you’re pretty tired
But you love the teenage girl that’s by your side
At the Proctor girls are squealing
And I get a sinking feeling

Whooo are Phil and Da-an?
How do I stay awake?
Ooh — I’m feeling groggy. Must not doze.

Like driving to a show, when you know
It’s a long way to go
And your eyes are drooping ‘cause you’re pretty tired
But you love the teenage girl that’s by your side —
At the Proctor girls are squealing
And I get a sinking feeling

Ooh — I love my daughter
Ooh — but Dan and Phil?
Ooh — I couldn’t tell you which was which

And so I fell asleep while Dan and Phil were on-stage.
I saw the paint balls and the guy strapped to the wheel,
But I can’t tell you much about the show –
‘twas a thing I did for love (a thing I did for love)

Dan and Phil — photo credit Gage Skidmore, from 2014 VidCon

In case you’re not familiar with the original song —

Free Parking (again)

Yes, we did it again this year.

Free parking for the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

2005 — when we lived in town

2017 

I’ve been feeling old.

And grim.

A day at a spa might have been nice, I suppose, if I was a day-at-the-spa kind of person. Honestly, today I’d be happy with a haircut, but even to get away for that is hard. If I have a spare hour, I choose to go to the gym for the endorphin rush of cardio and weights, not the hair salon.

As it turns out, a day of free parking is better than a day at the spa.

The crowd estimate yesterday was 53,000. That’s quite a few, given Cooperstown’s population is around 2,000.

Parking lots were springing up everywhere. Lawns. Driveways. Fields.

My brother mowed a patch in the field in front of his house and attached the “Free Parking” sign to his mailbox.

2018

Cars slowed while the drivers read the sign. Some then zoomed on past, while others rolled down their windows.

“What’s the story here?” they’d ask.

Sometimes I told them the story — We used to live in town down the road from the induction site and gave away parking on our lawn. When we moved, my brother took up the charge at his house outside of town. It’s a fun thing to do. We love Cooperstown, and we want visitors to have a great time here.

Sometimes I answer, “It’s free parking.”

Yesterday a car pulled up and the driver asked about it. I told them it was free.

“What about the shuttle?” he asked.

“That’s free, too,” I said. “We drive you in our vehicle.”

“What about the $30 parking with a shuttle?” they asked.

“That’s a mile down the road on the left,” I said.

“Okay, thanks. That’s the one we want.” And off they went.

Later on the proprietor of the other parking lot drove up and asked my husband, “Why are you doing this?”

“Because it’s fun,” he answered.

It’s life-giving — to us.

The best part comes when they sit with us after the ceremony in the shade of our trees, drink a soda (free) and eat a hot dog (also free), and tell us a little about themselves.

The mother-son duo from Detroit was my favorite yesterday. She was 80-something, and full of spit and vinegar.

“Park behind Ohio,” I had told them when they pulled in, referring to car with Ohio license plates.

“That’s Michigan always. Behind Ohio,” the woman complained.

Later, she told us about her son that almost made the big leagues.

“Not me,” her son had quickly interjected.

“The scout told me,” she continued, “‘If I was looking for a pitcher today, I would sign him, but I’m looking for a big hitter.’ Then he signed that Charlie.”

She rolled her eyes, remembering the day, while her son rolled his eyes, having heard the story a million times.

I laughed.

And smiled.

And felt life renewed within me.

It is more blessed to give than receive.

It is also better than a day at the spa.

 

Connect the Dots

My father asked his primary care physician yesterday,”Did I ever tell you how I came to Cooperstown?”

“I’d love to hear that story,” she said. She wheeled her stool a little closer and leaned it to listen.

“When I was in high school, I worked at a camp in Vermont,” he began. “I met Haile Selassie there. We drove down these winding roads” — and he drew large zig-zags in the air — “to get to the Red Sea. You know, I used to hitchhike a lot of places because you could do that then.”

Kamp Kill Kare, Vermont

Meeting Haile Selassie

Switchbacks

“Yes,” his doctor agreed, “things were different then. But you didn’t tell me how you got to Cooperstown. You were in Vermont.”

“Oh, right,” he said, and paused to think. “I was in Vermont. I worked at a boy’s, hmm…, I worked at an all-male camp. A man there named George Kempsel asked me what I was going to do with my life and I told him that I didn’t know. He told me, ‘You should go to Cooperstown!’ So I said, why not? And here I am.”

She smiled and thanked him for telling the story.

I wondered what she thought of it, but I didn’t have to wait long. When we left the exam room, she told my father to walk ahead of us so she could observe his walking. He complied and slowly toddled down the hallway with his walker.

“It’s interesting to see the dots,” she said.

“You know there were pieces from about five different stories there,” I said to her.

“Yes, I know,” she said, “and they aren’t connected, but he’s trying to connect them.”

I nodded. I asked her about a few things that were troubling me — his occasional difficulty swallowing, his struggle to dress himself appropriately, his general confusion.

“The thing you need to focus on is that he’s happy. He’s clearly very happy,” she said.

And that’s true.

The very first question she asked him — how are you doing? — elicited this answer. “I love where I live. I’m very happy there. And these fine people” (he gestured toward me) “take such good care of me. I have no complaints.”

But I kept thinking about the connect-the-dots that tell the story of a man. For my father, those dots have taken on a life all their own and are moving around in his landscape.

Realism moving to surrealism.

Maybe I can learn to appreciate the surreal.

Peeps and Pictures

My husband’s youngest brother, Ken, passed away last September in Kansas. The New York memorial service was held this past Friday.

Bud’s sister, Jeannie, gave a eulogy. It reminded me a little of my own words about my brother Stewart — how we all carry pieces of our loved ones with us.

In her eulogy, Jeannie said, “[Ken] was the kind of person who would buy a huge roll of paper, paint, a palette, and not brushes, but Marshmallow Peeps for his kids to paint with for Easter.” I loved that image of Ken — fun, creative, involved with his kids.

The day after Ken’s memorial service, we had a Zaengle family reunion. Bud is number two of thirteen children — plus a cousin came to live with them when her mother died.

So Bud’s parents raised fourteen children.

In a tiny house.

With one bathroom.

But I digress.

His father passed away over 10 years. Bud’s brother, Jack, passed away in 2007, and then Ken in 2017.

On Saturday I tried to sneak a photo while a real photographer was taking a group picture of the remaining nuclear family. Clearly, I am NOT a photographer — Tom’s face is hidden behind Jeannie’s pink hat, Don is half hidden by Joe, and Mary is all but obliterated by Anne. But here they are:


Maybe when the big group pictures are available, I’ll post one here.

I left the party early on Saturday to bring Mary to a “thing.” (Trust me, there WILL be a post about that at a future time.)

The next morning, Bud was telling me about what I missed in the evening.

“Ellie did the cutest thing,” he said. Ellie is Ken’s daughter.

Ellie

Bud said, “She had a box full of little squares of yellow paper. She had drawn a picture on each one, and the picture told a story. She was handing them out and I got one of the last ones.”

He pulled it out of his pocket to show me.

“The person on the right,” Bud explained, “loves candy. He’s standing outside a candy store and looking in the window at all the candy. And he’s drooling because he wants to eat it all.”

I laughed.

And looked for the Peeps in the candy display.

Clearly, Peeps would not be found in the candy store though. They would be in the art store. With all the brushes.

I could see Ken in Ellie and in her picture.

Thank you, Jeannie, for that reminder to look for Ken. It’s a beautiful way to remember those who have gone before.