First Love

My first love arrived on all fours one winter day in 1965. I was standing in line, shivering with grades K through 8 outside St. Mary’s on City Island. I stared at the wooden doors with my fingers tucked into my armpits, willing the nuns to emerge and usher us in when a disturbance made me turn my head.

A mid-sized mutt was making his way up and down the lines, greeting and sniffing, accepting pats on his head, and eluding full-body grabs. When he got to where I stood, he pointed his black-tipped ears towards my face, stopped, and sat down. I looked into the luminous eyes framed in soft fawn and felt a tug on my 8-year-old heart.

The dog followed me into school but was quickly escorted back outside, so I figured that was that. But, hours later, when the final bell rang, I saw that he had made a little nest between the boxwood and the brick wall of our school. I bent down and ran my fingers through his thick coat, and he nosed me in return. And then he followed me home, but of course, he couldn’t come in the house. I didn’t even think to ask.

After dinner, it began to snow. Mom was sitting on the couch, reading to my brothers and me. We crowded around her looking at pictures of the protagonist, a long-haired Dachshund named Wiener when someone knocked at our front door. Mom opened the door, and the woman on our step launched an attack. Snow flew as she berated my mother for leaving her dog outside on a night like this.

Johnny, Bobby, and I sat on the couch, open-mouthed. This was even better than the storybook that had captured our attention moments before. “What dog?” my mother stammered, “We don’t have a dog!” The woman stepped aside to reveal the chocolate-colored stray, plastered in wet fur and shivering.

Mom brought him into the house, the woman went away, I told my schoolyard story, and we regarded our first family pet. We toweled him off, each of us drowning in his gaze. Mom rummaged through the leftovers. She held out a piece of meat, and he gently took it from her hand. “What shall we name him?” someone asked. “Wiener!” one of the boys howled, and we all laughed.

My parents tried to find Wiener’s owner, but after a few weeks concluded he did not belong to our island community. They speculated that he had tried to follow his owner to work. Perhaps he had seen his human get on a bus, and maybe one day he had gotten loose and darted through the open doors of a bus headed for City Island.

Wiener ended up in New Jersey with my Nana where he roamed free with the rest of her dogs. He always greeted us with solemn consideration and a gentlemanly waving of his feathery tail. In the summer we kids spent long weekends at Nana’s, playing in her thick lawn, and racing up the hill through birch and laurel to explore the sandpits. Wiener lived a long life, pampered in ways I have never since seen anyone spoil their animals: with coffee and cream in the morning, liver and bacon for breakfast, calamine lotion on their pink tick-bit bellies, spoons of Pepto-Bismol when required, and ice cubes in their drinking water.

Of those many years with my first pet, one memory stands out. It was hot, and everything was green. Nana and I had been to the dairy, the one with the doe-eyed Jersey cow, and bought fresh cream and butter and a carton of raspberries. Wiener and I were playing outside when Nana called from the kitchen door. She handed me a bowl of raspberries and cream, which I took to a bench beneath a mammoth oak. Wiener sat in front of me, and we took turns. A spoonful of cream with a fat, red berry for him, then one for me, then one for him, our eyes locked, cicadas ticking in the woods, leaves rustling overhead.

I cannot for the life of me find a photograph of Wiener, and I won’t tell you how much time I spent looking. We all loved that dog, even my father, the man behind the camera, who recorded so much of our young lives. I decide that I’m done looking and that it’s better this way. This way there is no danger I’ll overwrite my precious memories with a picture of a nondescript dog. No image can capture the significance of those brown canine eyes.

Sidelined

On a typical spring morning in glorious retiree-land, I woke, got caffeinated, wrote a little something, and worked up a sweat in our gardens. I came into the house, showered, and washed my hair. Remembering Bob had said earlier he might have to drive into town today, I pulled on a denim shift: going-to-town clothes. And sure enough, when I went into our other bathroom to brush my hair, I found him shaving. “Mind if I go along?” I asked. “Of course not, love.”

I look forward to these shared trips to town. We save gas and electrons and enjoy our windshield time: undistracted conversation, heightened by the sense that we are moving in the same direction. As is our custom, Bob drops me at the Food Lion on his way to pick up mail at The Plant on the east side of town. Sometimes Bob finishes his business before I finish mine, but on this day I was done first.

I sent Bob a text, pocketed my phone, and sat down to wait on a wooden bench inside the store. Ordinarily, I would stand on the sidewalk, but today I had bought frozen peas, and it was already in the mid-80s. So I sat facing the glass wall between me and the parking lot, frozen in time, a victim of circumstances, deliciously sidelined from responsibility, with nothing better to do than watch life parade past.

I felt a swoosh of air each time the automatic doors opened, and with it, an undulating human vibe that wafted off the river of Pittsboro peeps. I imagined I was people-watching in an airport. I pictured myself as a wide-eyed infant, observing life from the inactivity of a bassinet.

It was about the time the kids get out of school, and the parking lot was humming like a beehive. I saw a woman hop up on the back of on her cart with a child on either side, crouched and clinging, the three of them open-mouthed and hair flying, coasting down into the parking lot, catching some free breeze. A rush of love and wistfulness took me by surprise. I felt simultaneously voyeuristic and connected.

A woman sat down next to me and plunged a plastic fork into a carton of deli macaroni and cheese. I nodded and smiled, striving for friendly, but not obtrusive. I moved over a smidge, an accommodating gesture that I hoped didn’t look like recoil, trying to remember the last time I’d shared a seat with a stranger. My stomach rumbled.

The parade continued, some people nodding, some saying, “How you doin’?” Some pausing to chat with the macaroni lady. A woman entered the store with a little girl, her kinky hair in three pompoms that made her look like Minnie Mouse with a bun. A man walked past us carrying a twelve pack of canned beer, and I remember seeing him enter the store. Eventually, the Minnie Mouse girl and her mother walked past us again, too, the little girl walking on the balls of her feet, all the way on out to the parking lot and to their car. “She is sooo cute!” I said, “She’s walking on her toes!” “Like a ballerina!” said the woman, and we both laughed.

A wave of emotion rose as I thought: these are my people, Pittsboro people, simple folks not looking for trouble or to wrong anyone; just trying to get along, and get home and make dinner or whatever. All about to spin off into separate realities, but here in this very moment, here and now with me sitting and watching, while the woman next to me greets them from behind her carton of carbs.

Ever since that day, when I go to town with Bob I find myself hoping I’ll have to wait on that bench again. I wonder if I have the discipline to spend ten minutes sitting idle for no reason. One of these days, I’m going to find out. I’ll drive myself to town, park the car, and sit down on that bench for a spell.

Stopover

“Nostalgia is a funny thing,” I said, looking at the flowers I’d forgotten to give to my friend, Ann, “Kind of like these limp roses.” We were standing on a weathered pier, looking out at the grey water of York River, trying to conjure up a connection with this place we had so often visited when we lived in Virginia. “You mean a loose amalgamation of something we once found meaningful?” Bob said. “Exactly.” And with that, we left Croaker Landing.

A few hours later, Val came to rest in a Hampton Inn parking lot. We unloaded our bags, the cooler, and my Ghanaian hospitality basket, hungry enough to make dinner plans at a Mexican restaurant a couple of miles up the road. “I’ll walk,” I said, eager to shake off the drive.

I started off down the main drag, but cut across a crunchy bean field to avoid the traffic. The sideways heat baked the bare asphalt and fried roadside weeds of Main Street. With few exceptions (there are kids goofing off in one of the playgrounds) Exmore, Virginia appeared abandoned, with more than its share of vacant real estate. Typical of small towns across Corporate America, the highway box stores thrive at the expense of the original town center.

I clipped on past consignment shops, churches, sunburned weeds pushing up through empty asphalt parking lots, a hot playground hopping with kids, and I stopped to stare at a pale green Statue of Liberty made of cement. It took a minute before I gave up trying to figure out why someone thought this was a good idea. I got a whiff of something goaty and traced it to the Smith and Scott Funeral Home. I didn’t even want to guess what that was about. Maybe I was just tired, but late Sunday afternoon Exmore seemed knackered and sad.

As I was about to write off this town, I reached the shade of some giant oaks outside a doctor’s office. A little further, gnarled crepe myrtles branched above the sidewalk. I could hear the highway ahead, and Bob drove by with a cheerful wave in our blue Chevy Volt. Moments later we were seated at a two-top in El Maguey Mexican Restaurant, looking forward to some good old beans and rice.

The next morning the sun rises over Exmore through air thick from an overnight rain, an orange ball that sends a blurry streak across the scum pond below our hotel window. We’ve got plenty of time before another five and a half hours of driving, so I head out for a repeat of yesterday’s walk.

At 7:30 on a Monday, Exmore is already shaking off sleep and getting to its feet. Whether from the energy of a new work week or my good night’s sleep, the town seems alive and upbeat. Even the chickweed-chocked landscaping pots, and the rats in the culvert strike me as fun and wholesome in a Disneyesque kind of way. Men peddling bicycles with cargo crates greet me with a respectful, “Morning, Ma’am.” Black-headed gulls pull fat worms from waterlogged turf while the robins sing from the crepe myrtle branches.

“Huh,” I think, wondering if this really is the same town. Perception is a funny thing. We get to decide whether a place is knackered or quaint.

Moonlighting

Our second May post ended up over at Two Brauds Abroad: Eating Like a Local Around the World

Pearls to Pay Forward

Consciousness felt its way through the weave of the screens with the crow cries. Nana’s bare feet plucked at the linoleum downstairs, moving toward the kitchen door where the dogs stood, fanning the air. I lay still, eyes closed. There was something else, an image, a niggling whisper.

Remembering how I had wrapped my final baby tooth in tissue, I slid my hand beneath the pillow. Usually, it was a coin, occasionally a dollar bill, and once a bar of halvah. I pulled out my prize, sat up and looked at a string of perfect pearls, exquisitely round and unabashedly grown up.

I hurried downstairs and found my Nana. She patted my bed hair, handed me a cup of honeyed coffee and cream, and told me how an oyster takes an intruding bit of grit and surrounds it with soft smoothness to make a pearl. And that it can take years.

Barbara Lorie died on Monday at age 93. I didn’t know her well, but we swam in the same circles, occasionally crossing paths. I would turn a corner and feel the hum, a hive-like buzz that signaled Barbara’s presence. She was charismatic, outspoken, and prone to profanity. Barbara’s “Who are you?” had the disconcerting effect of pushing you off balance while putting you at ease. She was a teacher, a mother, an idealist, a civil rights advocate, and a fundamental force behind the creation of Blue Heron Farm Community.

I stayed up late the night before Barbara’s funeral reading the first chapter of her autobiography. She described her early childhood in an upper-middle-class household supported by nannies, cooks, and gardeners. She loved watching her mother prepare for an evening out by spraying cologne into her handkerchief and draping a strand of pearls around her elegant neck. When Barbara was ten her father died and his funeral drew thousands.

The next morning I pulled on a black dress and noticed Nana’s pearls on top of my dresser. I had dug them out because I’m going to give them to my oldest grandniece. Alanna reminds me of myself in the way she takes responsibility for her younger siblings. Rather than take those pearls to my grave, I want to acknowledge my niece’s sacrifice. I will show her how to scrape her teeth lightly over one. “Does it feel slightly gritty?” I’ll ask, “Like sandpaper?” That’s how you know they are real.

Pearls go great with little black dresses. I would wear them one last time.

Nickolas was directing traffic when I arrived at Blue Heron. Mary drove up at the same time so, we parked and walked into the farm together, past a stunning stained glass blue heron. We joined a stream of people carrying food, some in black, many in bright colors. Who I didn’t know, Mary did. By the time we put our cookie plates in the food tent, we had hugged dozens.

Barbara wanted a raucous send-off, and that is what she got. She rested in her cardboard casket atop a colorful wooden cart while we held hands in a big circle, and then, in her cart, she led the procession to the burial site. The Bulltown Strutters came next, all drums and horns, brassy and Mardi Gras-loud. They were followed by hundreds of mourner-celebrants, some carrying giant Paperhand Puppets, billowy silk banners, and orange and black butterflies. Mary and I waved our butterflies to make their wings open and close.

Our destination was a large meadow with chairs facing a steep-sided red clay hole. A woman handed out programs, someone had put out drinking water, and a big pile of dirt waited on the far edge of the field. I chose a seat close to Lyle, David came and sat on my left, and Arlo—Tami and Lyle’s son—joined us a little later.

Longtime Blue Heron affiliate, Gary, kicked off a parade of tributes with some well-chosen words. Stacey made us laugh with, “I was Barbara’s favorite neighbor.” Tami spoke of their long friendship and said that Barbara was looking forward to seeing Zafer—Tami and Lyle’s other son who we buried with a similar ceremony three years ago. Many spoke about Barbara’s indelible influence, about how her unabashed and forthright manner encouraged them to be themselves. Several young people testified to her profound impact on their lives and one vowed to honor Barbara’s memory by paying it forward.

When it was time to lower Barbara into her grave, I reached for Arlo’s hand and let the tears flow. Home burial is raw and real. There are no buffers. Cemetery staff doesn’t finish the dirty work; it’s up to friends and families with shovels and hoes, in sandals and tennis shoes. As I watched people drop handfuls of peony petals and red clay into that straight-sided hole, I saw her legacy in action.

Here are my takeaways from Barbara’s funeral: Legacies are what happen when we inspire others by being ourselves. All our words and actions leave impressions on those around us. Best be aware of what kinds of seeds you plant. Keep a lid on the weeds. Take your pearls and pay them forward.

Making Our Mark

I thread the Outback between two posts and bring it to rest in the shade. I’m listening to NPR, a story about social media gone awry. Shelley’s black and white cat, Lucy, has reached the car by the time my feet touch the ground and is twitching her rear end at one of the tires. “What are you doing? Marking your territory?” I say in a sing-song voice, leaning down to stroke her shiny black coat. “Let’s go see what those chickens are up to,” I say, walking towards the chicken coop. Shelley is in Canada, and I’m in charge of feeding Lucy and the yard birds.

It’s nice to have Lucy’s company, but it comes with a price. She is not shy about telling me all about her last 24-hours in a language I cannot understand. The chickens also have a lot to say. But I welcome the sound of other animals. Much of what I do is done alone these days. I am the invisible hand that shapes the world around me, and that is as it should be. No one needs to see me struggling to free a limb saw from a branch that has bitten back and clamped on. I don’t want anyone watching me shove the vacuum cleaner against the nap of our bedroom carpet. And writer’s block, like constipation, is best suffered in private.

At the end of the day, after a shower and a change of clothes, I walk around the yard with Bob admiring the mulch around our fruit trees and our pristine gardens. After I’ve coughed up some words and rearranged them into a second draft, I punt them over to Bob for editing. He doesn’t have to see the first draft. That’s for no one but me to see. I present a finished meal every evening, plate ready—potato peels and nicked fingers omitted. I’ve heard it said that no one wants to hear about the labor; they just want to see the baby.

And yet, I opened an Instagram account not so long ago and began to crow about my accomplishments in their unvarnished state. I got into the Instagram game right about the time it began trending away from glitzy, staged photo art. I figured out how to put my laptop in smartphone mode and posted bowls of harvested peppers, laundry piles, seed orders, and Bob and I smiling in front our new Chevy Volt before driving it home from the dealer. Maybe I’m not so into private life as I pretend to be.

Like Lucy, I also mark my territory. In Africa, I impaled a muddy baby doll head on a spike atop our razor-wired gate. Bob was horrified, but I thought it was funny. Twenty years ago, before Facebook, before Instagram, he created a platform for our online presence, a site we named Troutsfarm after the little horse farm we sold in 1997. We used our farm’s logo, a hand-drawn yin yang blend of horse and trout, to brand our website.

Last week Bob dressed up our new car by adding a front plate with the Troutsfarm logo. And yesterday he drilled a hole in the belly of a plastic dinosaur—Toy Story’s Rex—and stuck it atop one of the metal pipes that define our property line. Whether it’s an Instagram post, a personal website, a vanity plate, or Dino-Boy on a survey pin, we all need to make our mark upon the world.

Easy Street

If I close my eyes, I can see the hectic days: the corner drifts of unbegun projects, the laundry mound, the on-the-fly meals. Twenty-five years ago, Bob and I were enmeshed in traditional 40-hour work weeks onto which we piled childrearing and animal husbandry. Life was an upward slog toward financial solvency and retirement. We buoyed ourselves with images of life on the other side of the rainbow.

I’d had my eye on Easy Street from the moment I joined the workforce in 1972. Pulling beer for lunchtime linemen in a basement pub on Denver’s Larimer Square, I dreamed of freedom from the wage game. I was 18-years-old, and like most other ’70’s teens, I knew that humans were designed to feed off nature’s bounty. Working for money seemed wrong. We felt it in our bones, yet few of us were lucky (or well-adjusted) enough to live off the land in a cooperative communal environment.

I don’t believe I was good community-building material back then, and the opportunity to test myself never occurred. Suffering from residual teenage angst, beholden to no one, I saw myself as a rugged individualist. So, instead of joining a commune, I plunged into the deep waters of the country’s labor pool. Wanderlust, Canadian Club, and hard-earned cash became my boon companions.

Years of 9-to-5 slavery changed my dream from cooperative homesteading to a life of opulent nothingness. I nurtured images of splendidly idle days, picturing myself snuggled into the curve of a bay-windowed nook reading a gothic novel. I envisioned languid shadows unfurling across butter pecan sand followed by the last peachy rays of the day. My vision of Easy Street morphed into the complete release from responsibility.

Bob took me on my first-ever real vacation when we honeymooned on Cozumel. Here was the white-sand beach; the effortless swoosh of sea on shore. We reclined on lounge chairs, traded cash for Pina Coladas, and listened to time evaporate. Towards the end of the week, we were mesmerized by an old man with a wheelbarrow. He stopped at each seedling in a line of sprouting coconut palms and watered it from a bucket. We realized that we were jealous of this old man. He had something to nurture while we sat on the sidelines, posing as pampered voyeurs. He had a purpose.

I got my Medicare card in the mail yesterday, and our Credit Union stands by in open-mouthed anticipation of my first Social Security payment. I have reached the other side of the rainbow, a bittersweet milestone with Bob still slogging away from his home office desk. The funny thing is, my new life doesn’t feel so much different than the old one. My transition has been so benign, so negligible that I feel a little cheated.

Retirement: those splendidly idle days yawning off into forever, are not so idle after all. Although I now have ample time for day-reading, I spend much of my day devoted to physical labor. I drag my tool bucket around the yard pulling weeds. I sweep and shovel. I chop vegetables and roll out pie dough. I buy groceries and wash the cars. I dutifully read the news and peck out essays. I do my yoga, call family, get up with friends, and go for walks. But, in all of this, I never have to hurry, and there is no activity so urgent that I can’t put it off until tomorrow.

As it turns out Easy Street is a blend of both dreams: a pleasant mix of homesteading and freedom from responsibility. These days, you’re as likely to find me swinging in the hammock as between the wooden shafts of our wheelbarrow.

Soaring Capitalism and Boeing’s Max 8

I’ve long felt that the United States’ economic model is leading us to ruin. The grab-all approach to business and wealth strengthens the strong while shutting doors to the rest of us. Capitalism encourages greed and monopoly.
This graph clearly illustrates the rise of corporate profits (the blue line) and the decline of employee wages (the red line) over a sixty-three-year span. The reality I was born into is no more, thanks to Adam Smith and Ronald Reagan.

The Boeing story is a good example of how the pursuit of corporate profits can affect we commoners. Boeing is just another American company, churning out aircraft and doing their best to make a profit. They aren’t looking to hurt anyone. They do not want their planes to crash any more than their passengers do.

Boeing’s 737 Max planes are fitted out with larger engines placed farther forward on its wings, which tends to push the plane’s nose up. So Boeing installs an automated system designed to make the adjustments necessary to push the nose back down. The new model is approved by the FAA in 2017 and sales began to flow. Boeing is so happy about this they crow about it on their Website: “The 737 MAX is the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing history with about 5,000 orders from more than 100 customers worldwide.”

This is Boeing’s latest victory in their race against rival Airbus. There are really only two passenger plane manufacturers on the playing field. Boeing has done everything they can to make these planes attractive to airlines around the world. One big selling point is that the 737 Max is so similar to the older 737’s that airlines don’t have to spend money training their pilots to fly them. Although now the world is beginning to think some training would have been a good idea because these planes are not just like their predecessors.

Last October Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 went down within minutes of leaving the airport, killing all 189 people on board. A couple of weeks ago Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 had a nearly identical crash resulting in the death of all 157 passengers and crew. Both pilots were flying 737 Max 8s. We learned from the Lion Air flight data that the automated system pushed the plane’s nose down and the pilot responded by aiming the nose higher twenty-six times before hitting the water. Twenty-six times! In other words, the pilot and the computer were locked in a deadly battle for control of the plane. Experts believe the system was taking in a faulty sensor reading.

This morning The New York Times took the story one step further with Doomed Boeing Jets Lacked 2 Safety Features That Company Sold Only as Extras. The article explains how the two fatal Max 8 might have been avoided if the planes had come equipped with two (optional) safety features. Buzz! This does not look good for Boeing, I must say.

Although Boeing declined to disclose the price of the two safety features, The Times did some digging and learned that “Gol Airlines, a Brazilian carrier, paid $6,700 extra for oxygen masks for its crew, and $11,900 for an advanced weather radar system control panel” for a previous version of the 737. So these special features can be pretty pricey.

Add-on features can be big moneymakers for plane manufacturers.

In 2013, around the time Boeing was starting to market its 737 Max 8, an airline would expect to spend about $800,000 to $2 million on various options for such a narrow-body aircraft, according to a report by Jackson Square Aviation, a consultancy in San Francisco. That would be about 5 percent of the plane’s final price.

To save money and because the two, potentially life-saving, features were billed as “optional” by Boeing, both Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines declined to purchase Boeing’s “angle of attack indicator” and “disagree light.” Had the planes been equipped with these two features, the pilots might have stood a fighting chance.

But U.S. Airlines all opted for the optional safety features, didn’t they? Not exactly.

The three American airlines that bought the 737 Max each took a different approach to outfitting the cockpits.

American Airlines, which ordered 100 of the planes and has 24 in its fleet, bought both the angle of attack indicator and the disagree light, the company said.

Southwest Airlines, which ordered 280 of the planes and counts 36 in its fleet so far, had already purchased the disagree alert option, and it also installed an angle of attack indicator in a display mounted above the pilots’ heads. After the Lion Air crash, Southwest said it would modify its 737 Max fleet to place the angle of attack indicator on the pilots’ main computer screens.

United Airlines, which ordered 137 of the planes and has received 14, did not select the indicators or the disagree light. A United spokesman said the airline does not include the features because its pilots use other data to fly the plane.

At this point in time, all U.S. 737 Max aircraft have been grounded pending further investigation. As you may know, the United States waited until dozens of other countries grounded their 737 Maxes before following suit. Canada dragged its feet, too. I have to admit, the delay had me biting my nails.

How to tell if you are about to board a 737 Max: Look for the split winglets.

A few years ago this story would have gone right over my head, but with Bob’s busy flight schedule, I am fixated. I hear that Boeing is going to make this right by elevating both sensors from optional to standard. I hope they also recommend some kind of pilot training for this next generation of planes. 737 or not, this is not the same beast and pilots all over the world deserve to know what they are dealing with.

It makes me uneasy to think that a big company like Boeing will squeeze their buyers to the point of declaring essential safety equipment “optional.” Sadly, this is just one example of how capitalism has run amok. The larger the corporation, the more they get caught up in the competition game. It’s easy to turn a blind eye when you have your sights set on a goal, but that doesn’t excuse Boeing.

Meanwhile, we simple wage earners read the news and shake our heads. We poke away at our consumer debt, plant gardens, stretch the leftovers into second meals, and hope the FAA keeps the Max 8 on the ground until Boeing makes them safe for everyone to fly.

Bye Bye Baby

The first time I saw her she was standing idle at the curb, shining like Pegasus in a sea-colored cloak. She looked like freedom incarnate. It had been eight months since Bob and I sold our tattooed silver TDI Beetle and we were ready for a new set of wheels.

We hadn’t needed a car in Nicaragua. In fact, cars were forbidden on Little Corn Island, and although having a car would have come in handy in Alaska, we hadn’t stayed there long enough to invest in a vehicle.

I believe every American can recall their first car in great detail. The specifics of their successors blur as the years speed by, with precious few worth bringing up in conversation. My first was a robin’s egg blue Rambler wagon that I acquired for $125. I named her Susi and slid around Denver in overdrive until I wore out the gear. Other notables were the hulking, solid steel 1950 Ford sedan that I drove out of a farmer’s field for $175 (never did get the brakes fixed); the 1972 Mercury Montego in arrest-me red with the sporty black vinyl top, and fantastic stereo system; and Christine.

We picked Christine up for a song—a mere $1200 for a ten-year-old Ford Escort with five-on-the-floor and 65,000 miles—and drove home to Berthoud, Colorado. Just like that, we were independent. One minute we were not totally American and the next we were, confidently down-shifting at stop signs and pushing her into fifth to blow past the pack lumbering up I-25.

After finding her lights on for the third time, we named her Christine after Stephen King’s novel about a possessed car. Our Christine was configured in a way that made it easy to bump the light switch when sliding out from under the steering wheel and she had long lost the ability to ping us in alarm. We bought a pair of jumper cables to keep in her ample trunk and grew accustomed to the tentative approach of helpful souls coming to let us know our car was sitting in the lot with her lights on.

Christine was our only transport for four years and for that alone she stands out. I think every couple should share a car for some period of time. It kept us from becoming too autonomous and enhanced our scheduling and communication skills. Sharing Christine helped us point our lives in the same direction.

We became a two-car family with Blanche, a 1987 white Mercedes turbo touring wagon who sometimes depended on the kindness of strangers. Blanche was joined by Oliver, an olive green Outback gifted to us by beloved neighbors Jason and Haruka, and most recently Val, a “Kinetic Blue” 2017 Chevy Volt.

Now, fourteen years after buying Christine, there were four cars milling about our yard and it was time to thin the herd. I moved Christine from her place beneath the sweet gums to a sunny patch of lawn in front of the house. Bob handed me a razor blade and I scraped off the trash sticker and the rasta baby decal. I removed my hair ties from the glove box and reached into the trunk to pull out the catch-all milk crate.

When the day came, a nice young couple arrived to collect our old friend. Bob and I stood together on our soggy lawn and watched Christine’s tail lights as her new owners drove away. She paused, blinking at us with her turn signal before turning south towards the highway, and I’m pretty sure she flashed her headlights one last time.

On the Alerts

My Google Alerts serve me well. For example, on the day the news story broke, I learned that Timothy Cox was sentenced for 2nd-degree murder. That’s the driver who recently widowed one of our friends. I understand some might think it odd to stalk stories in this manner, but I prefer to be in the know.

My friend Shelley wished someone had informed her that one of her “Grannys” had passed. How unsettling to walk into her nursing home room and find a different face. Although it would be nice if a family reached out to their loved one’s caregivers, I imagine this is low on their priority list when faced with funeral arrangements and estate management. An emailed obituary notice would have given Shelley some warning.

In a similar situation, I was able to help my mother search for a childhood friend. She hadn’t heard from Ann in months and was worried, so I set up an alert and eventually Ann’s story was revealed.

It’s easy to set up an alert. Type your search into Google, and click on the “News” tab. Refine your search to your liking, then scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on “Create alert.”

One of my 2019 goals is to increase comprehension and retention, particularly in regards to current events. I took out a subscription to The New York Times, signed up for some of their newsletter with links to dozens of stories, and began taking their Friday News Quiz. I also get newsletters from the The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, and The New Yorker. I had a lot of catching up to do, but the big picture of world news is finally coming into focus. No more getting left behind in adult conversation.

However, I’m definitely ready for something innocent after immersing myself in the top news stories. This is where my google alert on Pittsboro steps in and provides relief.

 

Small town news is a refreshing break from deposed cardinals, economic disparity, global warming, nuclear armament, despots, war, and hunger. In fact, I’ll go it one further. I’ll keep the good news flowing with an alert on some of my favorite things, beginning with:

I would love to hear what topics bring a smile to your face. Which news stories make you happy?