Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Return of the Chickenman

Four decades ago, thousands of young men and women, some only 18, left their home country to fight a war in Viet Nam. They would spend up to a year or more in a land where most of the population didn't want them there which was bad enough but upon returning home, they were met with disdain and disgust - all for doing what they were ordered to do.

The bonds soldiers form is strong; they become brothers in arms, standing strong and banding together to get the job done and go home safe and sound. Some do - some don't.

The soldiers came home sporadically and returned to their home states where they tried to move back into their lives. Again, some were able and others were not. Most lost contact with each other when they tried to put that part of their lives behind them.

Mike was the company "artist" while he was there and designed the Company's patch. Their call sign was Chickenman. When he wasn't drawing the Chickenman, Mike spent a lot of time doing caricatures of his buddies and cartoons about their sparse conditions and a few with political slants.

Several months ago, a message popped up on our email from one of Mike's army buddies about a reunion he was planning for the A-Co. 227th. A website was set up, a place and date were set and the few guys who had found each other started looking for the rest of them. One by one by one, the A-Company 227th of the First Cav Division started connecting with long lost brothers. And next week, many of them will gather in Branson, Missouri, where they will see each other for the first time in over 40 years.

It's been such a treat for me to watch Mike's excitement every time another call comes in. He connected with is best friend from back then, Joe Joe who lives in Vegas now and another of their running buddies, Pete, from Alabama. These three rarely let a week go by without calling each other and when they do, the laughter is loud and long.

I'm going along for the ride and boy, what a ride it's bound to be!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I love Fall. It sneaks in behind a soft summer day and suddenly the morning has a snap to it that you aren't expecting. The air seems clearer; the sky seems bluer (is that a word?) and waves of orange and yellow leaves lay in surprising designs on the ground. There's an undefinable joy in the crunch of big colorful leaves underfoot. It's the perfect way to close out the blur of summer with its endless activities.
One day, down the road, I dream of having a smallish writing studio in the trees where my little dog, Angus, and I will wander outside on just such a Fall morning. Angie will find a comfortable pillow on the well worn overstuffed chair that sits in the corner next to a stack of books and magazines. I might just sit next to him with my laptop and pick up where I left off the day before on a book chapter . . . an article that is nearing the deadline for submission . . . or maybe I'll just spend the morning doing Internet research to support a cause I've decided to write a story about. It's the freedom of thought that makes the writing worthwhile - significant because it found me - not the other way around.

That day will come because I know that's what God has planned for me. I've known it for years but I've also known the path to get there would be long, rocky and winding. That's okay because making the journey will make me a better writer. At least I believe it makes me a better person for finding my way over the obstacles and around the corners - and if I am a writer from the heart, my stories will have more substance and authenticity. Some days - like today . . . I can hardly wait.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dream On

Just along the road that follows the canal and separates what we consider "town" from the lush, green fields of the valley, sits this gi-normous stucco building. It's three stories tall; there are no coverings on any of the many, huge window openings; half the wooden frame roof is gone and it's most likely filled with more critters than one could imagine. But I just love it.
When I have occasion to drive by it, I slow way down and stare at the solid-as-a-rock structure and imagine the stories it could tell. I'd have to guess that in it's day, it was a huge feel mill or maybe a lumber company. The years have taken their toll but considering how old it is, it still stands perfectly straight and square. I can imagine a lovely loft home on the second floor, with sweeping views of the countryside from the way oversized windows ... a huge, gallery coop downstairs with artist's studios and exhibit space; maybe a coffee shop/wine bar and eating areas outside. I'm not sure what a person would do with the third floor - but I'm sure I'll think of something.
I hope the dreamer in me is always the strongest, most active part. How dull life would be otherwise.

Monday, May 11, 2009

This is my new treadmill. The "good life" has been a little too good to me lately. Mike found a new love in gourmet cooking a couple of months ago and I'm living proof that he never does anything halfway. He's a perfectionist and does everything fabulous . . . including baking bread, making green chili stew and a host of other wonderful but not-that-healthy entrees.

So today, we've made a pact that until we can both lose at least 15 lbs., he needs to be using his creative juices to paint, sculpt, build or design - in a non-edible medium.

The search is on for a reasonable, easy to follow and easy to prepare diet plan suited for middle aged adults who have a history of "falling off the wagon" when the food isn't that good. I'll keep you posted on what we find. I'm leaning toward a Mediterranean diet but we may just do portion control and moderate calorie counting.

The biggest change will be exercise. We wore out our treadmill about 8 months ago so we're going to have to use the actual road. But hey, the scenery is much better out there and thank Heavens, in New Mexico we won't be fainting from the humidity!

It's the night before day 1.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Prayers for Jessie Boone

I've had lots of arguments with God - always because things just aren't going the way I want them to. I have one plan and he has another one and with time, I always learn that His plan is divine and mine is not. His wisdom is perfect and mine . . . well, its silly in comparison.

Three years ago, almost to the day, I was spending my nights in Chicago Children's Hospital by my three year old granddaughter's bedside. She was in a very deep induced coma, battling for her life after going through major surgery to put a shunt in her abdomen. Literally three weeks later, she was able to go home and today she's a happy, healthy six year old. Needless to say, God and I had lots of conversations over that three week period. I pleaded with Him - tried to make deals with Him - surrendered everything to Him - and finally had to trust Him. It didn't come easy and without the prayers and support of family and friends, I don't know how we would have made it through.

The picture above is Jessica Boone. She's a beautiful 15 year old from Yukon, Oklahoma and the granddaughter to one of our dearest friends, Lee Henry. Jessica was on a spring break ski trip with her church youth group to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Last Monday, while skiing, she hit an icy patch, lost conrol and hit a tree. She suffered a severe head injury and is in critical condition at St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction.

The remarkable thing about Jessica Boone and her family is their complete and unteathered trust in God. The family has established an update page for Jessica at where her mom, Lisa, posts daily updates and hundreds of visitors have left uplifting messages. I urge you to go to this site and set up a user name and password - then just search for Jessica Boone.
As you follow Jessie's progress, your own spirit of hope will be restored.

I can remember quite vividly asking God to send Angels to comfort Keeli and to strengthen us during that very difficult time three years ago. I'd close my eyes and envision beautiful Angels circling Keeli's bed in the middle of the night when the only sounds in the room were the many machines that monitored every vital sign. You never really fall totally asleep during those nights because the slightest change in rythem in any one of those machines could be devastating.

Now, when I read Lisa's updates and the many words of encouragement posted there, it's clear to me that God has sent a huge host of Angels for Jessie.

Please remember Jessie and her family in your prayers and visit her Carepages sight to check on her progress. Trust me - you're the one who will come away feeling blessed.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Bella the Wonder Dog

After months of dry weather, we're enjoying the booming noise of a thunderstorm. I love thunderstorms but they really scare our border collie, Maggie.
Tonight is the first thunderstorm we've experienced since we acquired Bella (above) and so far, she seems totally unphased. But then, after what she's been through, a thunderstorm is nothing.
Last fall, the Nurse Practitioner at the clinic where I work, arrived one morning in near hysteria after one of her terminal patients told her about some dogs that had been left chained up with no food or water. It seems the owners were relatives of hers; two young girls who had left town about two weeks prior. This particular patient was too fragile to do anything so she asked Kay for help. Kay had patients waiting so we called Mike - who immediately headed over to check it out.
The house definitely looked abandoned. Outside, near the gravel road, Mike found a skinny, skittish, but friendly border collie mix tied to a tree. The dog was filthy and hungry. Someone had left some water but there was no sign of any food so Mike left a big bowl of food and figured he'd check on her every day until the owners returned.
Then we found out the owners had no intention of returning - they had moved. And there were supposedly two more dogs there. One had been left inside the house and another was chained up near a shed somewhere in the vast backyard of overgrown weeds.
Back Mike went to find the other two. The one inside was easy to get to since the doors were practically falling off their hinges. She was a younger dog, probably 9 months old or so and was in fairly good shape.
So now to figure out if there really was a living being in the lean-to that was barely visable through the tall jungle of growth outback. Mike was navigating toward the shelter when he heard something. Looking up, he saw a heavy motorcycle chain fastened to a eye bolt at the top of the shed. As he got closer, the chain moved slightly so he knew there was an animal attached to the other end. He figured it must be a pretty big animal judging from the size of the chain.
Imagine his surprise when he rounded the last corner of weed-jungle and found a nearly hairless creature that stood no more than a foot tall staring back at him. Her body was low to the ground with legs about 4" long. She looked like a Corgi crossed with a German Shepherd that had been crossed with a weinie dog.
Along her back was a 2" ridge of what looked like tiny black eggs ribboning down her spine. Her ears and eyes had similar clusters and her belly was covered with them. They looked like tightly compacted fly eggs. She was, after all, surrounded by her own feces and had dug a den in the dirt to escape the summer's heat. A few feet away lay another chain, this one empty. We would later learn that the dog kept there had died from starvation.
The small dog growled at Mike, daring him to come near her - which he didn't. He threw some food in her direction and while she ate, he filled her water bowl. Every day for two weeks, Mike went over to feed her, talking to her and finally - she trusted him enough to let him touch her.
In the meantime, with the sheriff's blessing, we were able to take the other two dogs to the local groomer. She bathed them and treated them for fleas and ticks and one Sunday, we drove them 160 miles to a no-kill shelter.
The following Monday, we headed over to get the little Corgi. As we started toward the shed with a leash, two Mexican men, presumably a father and son, came charging out of the house and demanded to know what we were doing. My heart leaped into my throat as we turned to face them. The father looked to be in his forties, had tattoos on both arms, wore a muscle shirt and looked at us curiously. The son had tattoos on his face and bald head, wore low rider pants with chains hanging from his pockets and looked at us suspiciously. Needless to say, they were pretty intimidating.
We explained that one of the doctor's patients had asked us to take care of these dogs because they had been left with no food or water for a long time. The father claimed he knew nothing about any dogs being kept there while the younger man strutted around and insisted the dog that was chained up would be just fine.
Mike was calm - though I could tell his blood was boiling. He said if it was all the same to them, we'd take the remaining dog and get her medical help since she appeared to be covered with parasites. I think the dad realized they could get in trouble for animal abuse so he finally relented and let us take her - but they watched our every move as we carried her back to the truck.
Never in all my life have I seen anything like what this animal had. As soon as I lifted her out of the backseat, thousands of ticks fell onto the seat and started crawling around- and I do mean thousands! All those tiny eggs were seed ticks and they were everywhere. We put our other dogs in the house and led her to a stoop in the backyard to bathe her. Mike went to the feed store and got every treatment they made for ticks and parasites.
Armed with heavy duty rubber gloves and a water hose, I started scrubbing the tightly attached ticks off her body. Her back turned deep red where the ticks were scraped away. It took two hours and I cried all the way through it. When it was done, she had almost no hair and was bleeding from the thousands of bites. I called our Vet tech daughter, Christi, and asked her if I should just have the dog put down. She assured me it would be okay but it would take time and patience to get her through it. I wasn't sure I had the stomach for it but Mike insisted that he'd made a promise to this little dog that we'd stick with her - so we did.
Standing there, looking at this pitiful creature, I decided she needed a name. We decided on Bella, which means beautiful. We figured we could at least give her a pretty name.
Over the next few weeks, Bella's coat grew back long, thick and shiny. Ruger, our Rott/Lab cross and Bella acted like they were old buddies - soul mates reunited. They play non-stop every day. She loves dog biscuits, but not rawhide chewies and has a strange gait when she runs. She sleeps on the floor next to Mike's side of the bed and knows where he is most of the time. She ignores the cats and finds a place to hide when neighbors or workers are here.
Today when the storm rolled in, Bella fell asleep on the floor near the fireplace and I thought about the many storms she's weathered in her short life. I can't stand to think about what her life would be like if we hadn't found her - or what our lives would be like without her in it.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Voter Number 36

When I first moved to New Mexico ten months ago, my physical self came willingly but I had to drag my spirit along kicking and screaming. Southern born and southern bred, I thought I was back in Texas to stay after spending many years living all over the rest of the country.
Then just as the economy started it's slow dive into the toilet, I got a truly wonderful job offer that, as it turned out, was more blessed than I could have imagined. Of course, the economic dive into the toilet was also much deeper than any of us could have imagined.
At any rate - the move was a good one - a smart one - and I'm grateful to be here. We've lived in lots of small towns over the years but I have to admit this one is a real charmer.
Our son-in-law is running for the school board so I went by the courthouse to vote yesterday. I was voter number 36. The clerk who helped me was very nice. In between banter with her five year old granddaughter, who was darting around in the office, she laid out all the paperwork I would need to officially - and very secretively cast my vote (like she didn't know who I was going to vote for). It involved a very large ballot and multiple envelopes. After I'd filled out all my personal information in her presence, she directed me to a small table at the far end of the clerk's office with a shield around it.
Once I'd cast my secret vote, carefully folded the ballot in two places, sealed it in the first envelope, put that in the second envelope and sealed it, I walked the nine steps back to the counter and handed the entire package to her. She wrote the date and time on the outside and handed it back to me. She then led me to the official black plastic ballot receiving box that was about three feet away. As I dropped my very secret vote into the padlocked box, I was confident that no one in the clerk's office would have guessed that I voted for my son-in-law.
I left the courthouse bound for the school gym to watch my grandson play in a basketball game. As I parked the car, I thought about the different direction my life has taken in the last ten months. I run the only medical facility in the entire county so I've been blessed to get to know a good number of people in our community. I see them in our lobby, on their way to our lab or xray department or in the dental office. They'll pop into my office and visit or some just wave as they go by. It's a good feeling and I like it.
I still miss my Southern roots - but I've discovered New Mexico sunrises and sunsets which are like nothing I've ever seen before. But more importantly, I've found the deep sense of community that comes from not just living in a small town but participating in the life that goes on there.