Friday, February 23, 2007

Snowfall [CCR]

By the time you read this tale our overwhelming snowfall will be gone. But today I am paying the price of living near the Great Lakes. I look out my windows and see a white fog surrounding me. A fog that is supposed to transition into seventeen inches of snow by tomorrow night. But, my little car seems to trudge its way along without concern, at least if the road is somewhat plowed.

The first year we moved up here Dad asked me if we had made any snow cream, a concoction Mom put together whenever we had an eventful snowfall in Alabama. I explained to Dad that I don’t think anybody up here even knows about snow cream. In fact, people may say they like snow up here but they don’t celebrate as we do in the South. In all my time living in Ohio I have only seen one attempt at a snowman. Why not more? I think they know the opportunity will always exist.

Dad always dreaded snow if we anticipated travel. He always had a set of snow chains with him in the winter. As a child I was thrilled to see snow, but traveling to work in the snow has dimmed my thrill beyond recognition. My children lasted about two weeks into the winter our first year here and then the honeymoon was over. Snow shovel in hand they plow their way through the driveway. No, I haven’t purchased a snow blower. If I do my company will move me South and it will rot in my garage. That has been my excuse for three years now.

One wonders if global warming has really taken a hard offense or if the weather cycles. As a child in Alabama I can remember some awesome snowfalls, even if they were infrequent. Maybe they still happen and I just don’t realize it. I can remember heading out to Mountain Springs to visit Granddaddy Daily in our old blue 1951 Chevy truck. Dad pulled over just as we reached what was Highway 72 at the time to attach snow chains to the tires. The snow was falling too fast. The chains would clink and rattle as the old truck eased along pulling itself through the snow. The vacuum powered windshield wipers worked hard to push away the frozen mush.

Snowmen weren’t so hard to build. We cheated. We had a birdbath in the front yard. If one gathered enough snow you could use the birdbath as a solid framework for the belly of the snowman. It was better than rebar in concrete. It was fun to see our creation, mostly built by Mom and Dad scooping the snow with Susan and I packing it. We admired our formation knowing the Alabama weather would transition quickly and the snowman would melt away faster than Frosty did in that greenhouse on the television show.

Of course we were used to Christmas without snow, but it could occur. I don’t remember it happening. Each year we sprayed our Christmas tree with the artificial snow. I guess that stuff has been around a few years now. It would foam and fizz blowing out of the can as it dropped and clumped on the tree. We had the old traditional Christmas tree lights, but we did have two special light bulbs. One was a snowman and the other a snowball. The snowman looked at home among his artificial snow. Eventually the bulb burned out but it stayed lit in my memories. I kept it in a box for years with my sentimental collection that would make a pack rat proud.

Now I must face reality and see if my little car will once again face the mountain of snow. With a little luck the snowplow will not have passed the house since the boys last shoveled the driveway. I’ll take a hot summer day down on the Tennessee River any day.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Memorial to the Mighty Tree [CCR]

This morning a tree stump caught my attention on the way to work. To most people it might look like an ordinary stump, but to me I could see beyond the tattered weather marks to where a mighty tree once stood. This stump still holds firm to the ground, having given up its trunk soaring to the sky but not its firm grip to the soil. I can imagine a young child stopping to rest under the shade or a worker taking a moment to revitalize under its magnificent shade. This stump has a story to tell, if only someone would stop and listen.

Such a stump rests in the yard of my parents. It’s remnants are a lasting memorial to a mighty hackberry tree that served our family well. The tree had a difficult beginning. I recall my Granddaddy Smith saying he accidentally plowed over the tree years before my arrival to our world. He nursed the tree back to health. The tree recovered under Granddaddy’s gentle care and it became part of our back yard. Granddaddy gave Mom and Dad the property around the tree to build a home. The tree grew to become master of the terrain.

I can remember looking up into the large tree watching the limbs wave and the leaves rustle in the wind. The tree supplied shade to my sandbox where I spent many hours practicing life in what we call play. The tree also provided many hours of flying high in the air on the rope swing that hung in grandeur from a tall limb. My sister and I took turns feeling the breeze blow through the air and looking up at the sun glistening through the leaves.

By the time I left home for college I’m not sure there was a taller tree within sight. At least it seemed that way when standing in the back yard. It overshadowed the pecan and walnut trees in a fatherly image. Its thick brawny trunk held the giant tree firm in strong winds. The far reaching branches provided a cooling shade over the majority of our back yard and a good portion of the house.

As time would have it, the tree aged. The trunk wore and the limbs began to crack with weight. Unfortunately Dad had to trim the tree to a size manageable by the aged trunk. But the roots held firm and the tree continued to mark its place as it aged.

The tree’s epitaph was written last summer when one of my boys noticed the large trunk had rotted from the inside. It was deemed no longer safe to withstand strong winds. The tree had to come down. And so with the help of my sons, Dad brought the tree down. In one last show of strength it crushed the barbecue pit Dad had built when I was child as it fell. The boys took turns with the tractor hauling the remnants to the pasture.

Today the stump still lies in its place proclaiming it could handle a grand tree. But alas the trunk is filled with a colorful flower bed. The pecans and walnuts can still look to the trunk for advice for it has a story to tell. A story of children playing in a sandbox, a picnic table shaded for a summer meal, and a swing to carry one high in the sky. I miss the old tree and I am also certain the stump and roots left behind miss me.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Winter Wonderland in Galion [Exclusive]

It may be a winter wonderland for the folks here. But for me, I’m a poor fish out of water and what is happening is far from any wonderland. The scene to some may look fascinating. I must admit that before personal experience it is fascinating. But after you realize that the real deal is a wind chill of twenty degrees below zero then you rethink the whole situation.

Well the folks back home in Alabama always say we should look at the good side of everything. So let me think. The dog doesn’t like the snow because it is deeper than his height. The boys don’t like to shovel the snow. Yes, school is canceled even in Ohio for this mess, but they may be losing their spring vacation. I’m still thinking. Oh yes, the bugs will be killed. But wait. We live in Ohio. These folks don’t know bugs like folks in Alabama know bugs. The summers are sort of cool with exception to about a week. Bug life is just not that big of a concern with exception to some mosquitoes.

I am happy to say all the folks who invested in those expensive snow plows are getting to make use of their fancy equipment. Everywhere I go there is a truck that would make an Alabama boy proud with two exceptions. The first exception is the big snowplow on the front. Get a tractor! And the second exception is all the rust from the salt. What we have here is a shell with an engine.

Last year I swore I would purchase a snow blower. Isn’t that what a good Northerner would do? And as sure as I buy the snow blower my company would relocate me back South. I would have a snow blower waiting for the storm of the century. And with global warming that may be a millennium. The engine would lock up and I would be the joke of the town. Last time I moved back South I used the snow shovel to clean the dog pen. It did work well. But I don’t think a snow blower would be a good idea for that job.

The boys are my human snow plows. But I do have one problem. They are still learning. The younger is hard to crank and the older one takes too much fuel. I shouldn’t say that because with enough coaxing the driveway got plowed. As they finished up the last of the driveway I watched the neighbor trying to persuade his fancy but small snow blower to move ahead. It got the job done, but it was groaning.

One of my computer systems has a countdown until Spring. Well, that just means the worst is over. Up here we can have snow well into Spring. But, for an Alabama boy it means hope. I will then be looking forward for the weekend on which Summer will occur. That weekend is one to savor for it is the last remnant of staying fit for my return home. My last venture into the North was a period of time living in Illinois. I stayed 56 months for that round. I never expected a return home until retirement this round, but my company has said it may be possible. I have been here 41 months.

Don’t get me wrong. The folks here are wonderful and I really enjoy all the people at work. All over this country I find wonderful people who are just adapted to a little difference in climate or culture. (California is definitely a culture adaptation.) Otherwise we are all on the same boat. The folks here have their own story to share. I am blessed for my life has been a living vacation meeting people from all over the country and the world. If only we could get just a little bit more warmth. Oh well. I guess we offset the heating bill with the lack of any cooling costs. I need to go thaw my car for the trip home.

Friday, February 09, 2007

What is an Alabamian? [CCR]

Traveling our great country gives me many opportunities to meet people of many cultures and share a little of our homemade hospitality. Most folks take a moment to say hello and impart a smile. Many others forgo some time to share a story. My most vivid memory was a young lady in Boston who kept requesting I say something else. I am very honored to stop and spin a yarn. If my accent adds to their pleasure in my duty as a incidental ambassador of our fine state, then I am happy to oblige. But if I am to fulfill a proper role of ambassador then I should understand what makes us a true Alabamian.

An Alabama man is a true gentleman. Contrary to popular culture he still opens doors for the ladies. The Alabama lady returns a gentle nod and a word of gratitude. An Alabama gentleman never approaches a lady for the favor of her company without a gift, usually a small bright bouquet of flowers.

An Alabamian defends with vigor yet loves with might. He stands beside his friends and family through difficult times while celebrating the rewards together. He loves God, his home, his country, and his freedom. Each of these are worth every ounce of energy forgone.

An Alabamian does not waste time examining the shell. He looks at the true inner self for the value found in each person, place, or thing. He understands patiently, providing a helping hand while analyzing carefully to give an appropriate response to action.

Most people hear the Alabamian’s Southern drawl perfected to pronounce the dignity of his birthright. But in those words must lie truth and the passion of his heritage. He may be asked to share the trademark dialect but should do so with pride.

A true Alabamian understands why kudzu smells sweet with the dew in the morning. He knows the song of the Southern night. He feels the heat of a summer day and appreciates the breeze blowing across the fields full of God’s bounty.

An Alabamian appreciates the roll of the water in the early morning light as the fisherman approaches the lake. He hears the beauty of each animal within the deep lush forest. An Alabamian understands the value God placed in each of our hands and will be a responsible caretaker of nature.

My fortunate role allows me to travel and meet many people. My prayer is to be an Alabamian and carry the role proudly among my fellow citizens. One day, if my plans lay true, I shall return to my home in Alabama and rest. Until that time the yarn must be spun, the smile must be big, and the heart must be full. My home is Alabama.

Friday, February 02, 2007

“I are a Engineer” [CCR]

As a youngster growing up in a school teacher’s home I received frequent reminders that education was an important part of my future. My problem was resolving the need for a future engineer to master the English language. Yes, “I are a engineer.” Seriously, if you had told me I would be sharing my life’s story with all the folks back home 30 years later I would have chuckled.

Luckily my school teachers shared the same resolve as my mother. For some reason they foresaw the value of communication, something required within a Fortune 100 company. So here I am drawing upon every linguistic brain cell trying to promote the value of my projects to our financial community. While I can easily say that school provides the tools to get the job only experience can provide the wisdom to survive.

After time ages the experience you realize the extraneous value of the assignments. For example, Mrs. Battles, our eleventh grade English teacher, had us write a prediction of where we would be ten years later. I still have that paper buried in my archives. Reading the paper it seems most of what I wrote actually foretold what actually happened. So did the paper magically alter my future, or did the paper help me formulate my thoughts? Lacking the confidence in the theory of a magical thesis I tend to believe Mrs. Battles was simply stimulating our own agenda. The wisdom lay undetected at the time.

Another example would be the work in Mrs. Mitchell’s class. I swear I still remember that Old English poem we memorized. At the time the assignment seemed a grueling exercise in memorization. Today I can easily say it expanded my ability to understand foreign languages and the derivation of technical terms. But the term paper we wrote provided even more value. Mrs. Mitchell provided a firm work out in what college professors would soon expect. As a “pre-engineer” freshman I was able to avoid what I considered an intolerable freshman English class by opting for technical writing. Oops. I landed in a class that combined the necessary skills of writing a term paper with the requirement of incorporating a technical vocabulary. Mrs. Mitchell became my savior and I sailed through with a ready foundation for success.

The key to today's world is a solid foundation. I could easily share similar stories about teachers in many subjects and I probably will in future stories. Our young folks must persevere and complete their education. No, I don’t expect the education to provide everything you need for your career. Education exercises your mind and teaches you to think. It is the foundation upon which you grow your future.

Now I look back on those days sitting in Mom’s lap sharing turns reading in that yellow primer. That book has passed through the hands of some cousins, my nephew, and my own children. Today it is tattered and torn, showing age that does not really speak to mistreatment. It tells the tale of parental exuberance for many generations to come.