Grandfather Miller’s Fox Hunt

Grandfather loved to hunt in his earlier years and many were the stories that he could tell about his hunting ventures. One story that I remember him telling was the time he went fox hunting.

After trudging through the woods for some time his dog finally picked up scent. The baying of the hound was music to Grandpa’s ears. He stood quite still as he listened to the melody of the hound gleefully giving rise to the instinct of his kind. Unlike his ancestors, hunger had nothing to do with the chase, but rather the excitement of the chase itself.

Grandpa listened intently as the feverish pitch of the bawling hound slowly faded in the distance. The dog meticulously picked his way through the underbrush and disappeared over the distant hills. Grandpa smiled to himself as he heard the canine’s voice fade. “Got to be a fox the way he’s heading away.”

Judging approximately where the fox would choose to pass by on his circuitous route to evade his pursuer, and knowing that it would take a while Grandpa found a place to relax where he could clearly see the activity of the chase. For a long time he listened to the chipping of the chipmunks and an occasional blue jay scolding at something in the distance. The gentle breeze carried the sound of conversation from a couple of crows as they made their way over the distant horizon. Suddenly in the distance he heard the faint sound of a dog barking.

Eagerly he strained into the wind to hear the melodrama. Slowly, ever so slowly, the baying of the dog drew closer. Suddenly he saw motion off to his side. Hardly daring to breathe he cautiously turned his head and saw a fox ambling warily along stopping every few minutes to listen to the dog in the distance. Grandpa’s adrenalin pumped overtime as he watched the fox’s antics.

The fox walked over to a tree that had blown over and with a deliberate effort climbed on it and made his way to the far end which was quite a good distance from the ground. He lifted his nose into the wind and keenly surveyed the countryside from his elevated position. Suddenly with a flying leap he hurled his body out into space clearing the many branches and landed on the ground a good distance away from the tree. Not missing a beat he ran merrily, seemingly unconcerned about the villain that was chasing him.

Grandpa watched as the dog, hot on the tracks of the fox, ran up to the windblown tree and barked treed. Grandpa was quite amused as the dog ran all around that tree bawling his head off. He never ran out quite far enough to catch the scent of the now long gone fox. Grandpa felt quite fortunate to be able to witness such a spectacle.

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Break In!

My mother was tired. She had been to the hospital every day that week to be at the bedside of my ill father. It was late and all she wanted was a good night’s sleep. She opened the window beside her bed to allow the warm summer breeze to refresh her.

Mother slowly relaxed that fateful evening as the night sounds engulfed her. Her boys were safely tucked in upstairs, all but the oldest who had left for the evening some hours earlier. The doors were locked. But, the window beside her bed was open.

Mother was sleeping deeply when somewhere in her subconscious mind she detected something out of the ordinary. Slowly, reluctantly, she awoke out of deep sleep, entering into some resemblance of consciousness. She listened intently. A faint noise like wood sliding against wood sounded in her ears.

She opened her eyes. Someone was standing outside the window! She pressed into the mattress, staring at the stranger. Through the darkness he looked like he had a long beard and straggly clothes. Mother stared as he removed the screen. The stranger peered inside for a moment and then pulled himself up to the window and squeezed through.

Mother was terrified. She trembled in horror. The stranger was in her bedroom, father was in the hospital, and her boys were upstairs. What did this fellow want!

The stranger tiptoed across the floor and disappeared out the bedroom door. Mother was glued to her bed, but she knew that somehow she must protect her sleeping boys.

Sometime before, my oldest brother was on the way home and thought about our father lying in a bed in some strange hospital with an unknown sickness. He thought about our mother at our father’s bedside most of the week. He knew she was tired.

My brother thought about how dear our parents were. They had cared for him as long as he could remember. They had fed him when he was hungry, changed his diapers when they were soiled. He could always count on his dad telling stories and his mother cuddling him. They provided answers when he asked questions, coached him when he was perplexed. They didn’t have much, but always enough. They weren’t dirt poor, just “scrambling poor.” If they scrambled, they could make it. If Dad’s lack of working when he was sick was the culprit then Mom’s contentment was the miracle that always made everything right.

Yes, my brother had been eager to get home. He hoped the door was unlocked. Like a cat, he walked silently to the door. It was locked. He did not have a key. He stood there at the door, waiting and thinking. He hated to wake his mother, knowing she needed her rest.

As the stranger crept upstairs to where the young boys lay, somehow my mother got the strength to get out of bed and drag her feet to the stairway. The stranger was almost at the top of the stairs before she could utter a sound. In a quivering voice, my mother screamed.

The footsteps stopped. My mother held on to the door jamb. A voice spoke out of the dark. “It’s just me, Mom. The door was locked so I climbed through the window.”

My mother discovered her legs and wobbled back to bed, waiting for her pounding heart to calm down so she could sleep.

The stranger climbed into the bed next to mine.

The house became quiet.

The Grand Run Around

 

 

It was Saturday afternoon and mischievous Eli tore into his friend Andy’s lane at breakneck speed. When he was even with the yard gate, he yelled, “Whoa!” and pulled hard on the driving lines. By the time the horse skidded to a stop, Eli had already jumped off the buggy and was breezing through the gate.

About the time he entered the front door, his friends Andy and Roy came around the side of the house. When the two teenage boys saw Eli’s horse standing in the lane with Eli nowhere in sight, they realized that their friend had once again done the unconventional and left his horse unattended. An unwritten law among the Amish is that you always tie your horse. Nothing could put a slow horse into high gear faster than the opportunity to hit the road without a driver. It was simply the human in the horse.

Andy and Roy looked at each other, looked at the house, and looked at the buggy. Without hesitation Andy jumped into the buggy, grabbed the driving reins, and climbed behind the seat. Roy gave Andy some time to get away with the horse and buggy and then let out a desperate shriek, “Whoa, whoa! Eli, your horse is running away! Whoa! Eli!” Roy half-heartedly ran after the “runaway” horse while yelling at the top of his lungs.

Eli, taking advantage of Amish hospitality, was just opening the refrigerator door when he thought he heard someone calling his name and yelling something about a runaway horse. Oh, well, they could catch their own horse. He was hungry. Surely his friends had something to eat . . . He froze. A horse running away? His horse? Hunger pains left him faster than a piece of chocolate cake in a crowd of starving boys.

About the time Andy had steered the horse through the open gate and into a harvested hay field behind the barn, Eli came flying out of the house like a ball from Mickey Mantle’s bat. Without losing momentum in the race, he yelled at his horse to stop. He tore down the field toward the careening buggy, easily catching up with Roy who was still flailing the air and yelling.

“Faster, Roy!” said Eli as he puffed past Roy. “We’re not going to catch him at your pace.”

Roy picked up speed as Eli passed and then keeping his eyes on Eli, he slowed to a dull run. He hoped his loud screams of “Whoa!” would make up for his slow pace.

Crouched behind the buggy seat, Andy pulled on the reins to slow Eli’s horse just enough for Eli to catch up. When he heard Eli puffing directly behind the buggy, he eased up on the reins, allowing the horse to pick up speed and leave Eli behind. When Andy got to the end of the field, he pulled on the driving reins and made a wide turn back up the field.

“Head him off, Roy! Head him off!” Eli shouted as he picked up speed once again. “Can’t you run faster?” Roy ran clumsily toward the fence to “head off” the horse, but by now he was laughing so hard that he stopped to bend over, feigning stomach pain from all the running.

From somewhere deep inside of him, Eli found the will to drum up more speed. When he could almost touch the buggy, the concealed Andy eased up on the reins once again and the horse sped off. From one end of the field to the other they went.

Finally, the exhausted Eli dropped to the ground in frustration and watched as the horse stopped at the far end of the field.

Roy dropped beside him, holding his side as he laughed.

“What are you laughing at?” Eli sputtered.

“That must be the smartest horse I ever saw in my life,” Roy gasped. “Did you notice how he sped up every time you got close?”

Eli looked around, disgruntled. “Where in the world is Andy? Why didn’t he come to help?”

“Andy? Who’s Andy?” Roy asked innocently.

Suddenly a light came on in Eli’s brain. “Andy!” he screamed, jumping up. “I am going to get even with you!”

The distant horse and buggy slowly turned and came toward them.

Holding onto his hat, Eli ran for his horse. Andy, roaring with laughter, waved at Eli from the front seat of the buggy as he headed toward the hitching rail. He kept just far enough ahead of Eli that he could quickly tie the horse and run into the house for refuge.

 

 

Nailed!

Pete and John believed that they should make as many pallets as possible. They weren’t sure why except that they were told to do so. Making pallets was not an art in itself, but making them efficiently was. The nailers, as they were called, wore nail aprons. A small rake-like instrument was available to rake the nails out of the box and into the nail apron.

Two men worked together, one on each side of the table made especially for the purpose. Both men grabbed the necessary wood needed to make a pallet, and laid them in place. A jig had been made to hold the wood in place so it would not move.

With one hand the men would reach into their respective nail bags and get enough nails for one pallet. With the other hand, they pulled the nails away from each other. The nails that came away were the ones with the heads forward. That was done as often as necessary so all the nails had the heads in the same direction. This process only took a few seconds. One nail was quickly rolled forward to the thumb and forefinger. The nail was positioned. The hammer tapped the nail hard enough to stick. The finger was quickly withdrawn, and with one loud crack the hammer came down and drove the nail completely into the wood.

The whole process was done without thinking. It was as automatic as eating. Pull out nails, strip them into the hand with the heads all pointed in the same direction, place the nail, set it with one crack of the hammer, and with another crack the nail was in. Roll the next nail forward, pound in the nail. Continue until the pallet was made. One man would grab the finished pallet and stack it while the other man grabbed more wood. The process was repeated until it was time to go home.

As you can imagine the whole mind-numbing process could become quite boring. One day Pete and John were nailing and visiting. All this nailing and visiting did not leave much room for concentrating on what they were doing. Boredom settled in. Repetition breeds boredom, and boredom produces negligence.

Just for something else to do to combat the boring task, Pete held a nail in place for John to plant with one swing of the hammer. John knew that Pete would pull his hand away if he swung the hammer. It did not even enter his mind that he would not do so. Pete knew that John would not hit the nail even though he had his hammer raised. It did not even enter his mind that he would. The stand-off lasted about three seconds. John raised the hammer and sent it toward the nail with lightning speed knowing Pete would pull his fingers away. Pete continued holding the nail knowing that John would stop short of the nail.

John swung and Pete held the nail. Before anyone could say ouch, John hit the nail. Pete’s thumb and forefinger was reduced to a flattened piece of flesh. Blood splattered in every direction. The boredom was over.

The Intruder

We were young and newly married. Everything was flippant and fun. Life was swathed in bright colors and tied with a red bow.

We lived in a tiny house, cozy and quaint. Four rooms were downstairs and one room upstairs. It wasn’t far from the back of the house to the front. The house was entered through the side by way of a tiny enclosed nook or from the back where a nice porch shaded by a lush maple tree provided leisurely sitting in summer. A porch swing swung on chains at one end of the porch.

The bedroom had two windows. One granted a nice view of the back porch and the stately tree. The porch swing hung right outside the window. The bed was against the wall opposite the window. Propped up by pillows one could look out at the porch and the grand maple tree. During the night the porch was very, very dark. The maple tree brushed the house as if attempting an entrance.

One night my wife and I were slumbering away the cares of life only a few feet from that big window when I awoke to a noise I could not identify. I strained to hear what had awakened me with no success. For a long time I listened, but all I heard were little things that creep in the night and the tree caressing the house. Finally I fell asleep.

Several nights later I awoke from a deep sleep with a start. Something was not right. I could feel it. It felt like one feels when someone is watching you. My tense body willed to hear something. Something had definitely interrupted my slumber, but I heard nothing except my own breathing and the tree lightly brushing the house. Then, just as I was falling back to sleep I heard it again. Someone was at the window!

My hair stood on end as I listened to the sound of scratching. Someone was trying to open the window. A moment later everything grew silent again, except for the wind whispering secrets to the maple tree. A few minutes later I heard the sound again.

Quietly, I whispered to my wife that someone was at the window. She was startled, but I laid a hand on her arm urging her to be quiet. Suddenly someone pushed against the window!

I eased out of bed fumbling for a flashlight. In the bravest voice I could muster, I quietly said to my wife, “I am not putting up with this. I am going to see who it is.”

My wife followed. If someone was going to get me, he had to get her as well. I think it had something to do with, “For better, for worse in sickness and in health . . .”

Tiptoeing to the living room, I slowly unlocked the door and quietly pushed it open. Cautiously stepping outside, I shone the flashlight from one end of the porch to the other. The light revealed only the swing hanging on its chains. Nothing else was on that porch. Whoever it was had fled.

We slowly turned and went back inside, leaving the porch swing in the dark and the tree sighing in the breeze.

About a week later my parents visited. We had a great time catching up on family things, but then they went home leaving us alone in our little house with a big back porch, and a big window, and a porch swing hanging on its chains.

After my parents left I went to the bedroom. My wife was in the kitchen. As I passed the window I heard a faint shuffling noise. I froze. The dark porch monster was back, and he was trying to get in! I instinctively went out to the kitchen and told my wife that I had heard the noise again. Grabbing a flashlight, we went to the back door (it was that for better, for worse thing again).

I wrenched the door open and stepped out onto the dark mysterious porch. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood straight out as needles on a pin cushion. I swept the porch from one side to the other with my flashlight.

Then I saw him! The intruder was sitting on the swing! He glared at me with cold, intent eyes. I froze. Time stood still as we stared at each other for a few hair-raising seconds.

Neither of us spoke. My mind raced as I stared into those emotionless eyes.

Suddenly the intruder took off over the railing! He flew off the porch like a, well, like the screech owl he was!

My wife and I laughed nervously and returned to the house. At last our minds were at rest knowing what had been disquieting our peace.

As if saluting our right to know what had been playing with our minds, the porch swing swung ever so lightly in the inky darkness. The wind whispered to the tree, and the tree gently caressed the house. The screech owl scratched his beak.

Hogged In The Night

All day I labored, building a fence that no pig, big or little, could jump over, crawl under, or push through. Having that task finished, I proceeded to build a fence to pasture the horse. Alas, the task was longer than the day. I neglected to plant the last post. The hole was dug, but night had come and the hole must wait to be filled until morning.

Though the hour was late, I decided to still wean the piglets. I removed the sow and closed her up in her new home, confident that my hard work held the Farm Journal seal of approval. Scarcely was I finished when a soft rain began to fall. Throughout the evening the rain fell, watering the spring soil.

The children were taken to their beds and tucked in with a cheery good night and a kiss. My wife and I tucked ourselves into bed. We had said our prayers, thanking God for a successful and safe day. I stretched out on my soft mattress content that the day had gone well. I needed a good rest. I sighed and drifted to sleep, slumbering the sleep of a man at peace with himself.

Only minutes into my deep sleep something probed at my subconscious mind. It teased and begged until I finally came to a lazy kind of consciousness. I listened for a few half-hearted seconds but heard nothing. I fell into a subconscious state again. I awoke again. Something was stirring outside the bedroom window. I could not identify the sound. I listened intently. There it was again! It sounded like heavy breathing. Though I didn’t know what it was, I knew I didn’t like it.

I grabbed a flashlight and slipped across the room to the window and listened. When the heavy breathing started up again, I turned the flashlight on and shone it right into the face of the big sow. It was the same one that that was supposed to be in her escape-proof pen! My heart sank and the blood pressure rose.

I dressed in a hurry. I did not need a pig to ruin my yard. I became a little angry. Being angry does not bode well when herding pigs. I started wrong. As I quickly learned, starting wrong does not produce good results. Pigs are notorious for knowing what you want and then doing the exact opposite. I quickly opened the gate to the sow’s pen. Next I went behind the house and herded her toward the pen. She pretended to like the idea.

She looked at the gate and went around it. I quickly went around the other way. She went past the gate. I reversed direction. She went past it again. My blood pressure rose. She smiled. I kicked, and missed. She bolted. I ran like a nut trying to catch the bolt. She took off for the house at a pace meant to intimidate me. It did. As she went around the back of the house, I cunningly went around the front. We met eyeball to eyeball on the far side of where I wanted her. It dawned on me that she was having the time of her life.

She turned and took off for the barn—just for fun. I took off after her dead serious. About the time I had lofty hopes of catching her, my legs sank into the earth. About the time my feet hit the bottom of the hole, I remembered that I was going to plant a post into this hole! Water seeped into my shoe and dampened my desire to raise pigs. For a moment I stood myself in a corner of the round hole scolding myself for not setting the post. Wearily I pulled myself out of the hole, admitting defeat.

Walking slowly to the barn, water sloshing in my shoe, I opened the gate. With a twinkle in her eyes the sow walked through the door to her squealing pigs. I closed the door after her and trudged to the house with bowed head. After washing up I sneaked under the covers, having no desire to explain things to my wife. For a long time I lay sleepless. Every time I tried counting sheep, they turned into smiling sows!

The Pantry Monster

Esther and I came home from our Thanksgiving vacation and unloaded luggage, excess food, and other items too numerous to mention or care about. While putting things away in the pantry, she told me it sounded like someone was talking inside the pantry.

How could someone be talking inside the pantry when it was scarcely large enough for someone to get inside? I listened to her with one ear. Make that half an ear. I continued what I was doing. She kept putting more things into the pantry. “There it is again.”

Just what I need. A wife who is hearing the pantry talk! I went about my business not taking her too seriously. This goes here and that goes there, and what was that! It sounded like someone was talking! I heard it. A very faint voice came from inside the pantry.

Esther was perplexed. I was perplexed. And, when I am perplexed, something has to be done.

On her knees in front of the pantry, Esther told me that the voice was coming from close to the floor. I got down on the floor and started removing items one by one. I handed some of the items to Esther who scrutinized it all.

Suddenly we heard it again. A voice was trying to tell us something. It sounded like it was saying something about being dead! Maybe it was a disembodied soul trying to tell us something. Maybe it was a secret devise from a distant planet? I heard it again. It was a voice wanting to be heard.

I removed everything that was on the pantry floor: pots, pans, storage canisters, tablecloths. The floor was empty but the mystery was not solved. Maybe the voice had come from the other side of the wall? I went to the other side of the wall, but no cookie monster, no Charmin baby, no Pillsbury dough boy, no energy bunny, no cell phone, was to be seen. I knew that someone was dying in our pantry and we needed to find it. Do mice talk? Did we set a trap and forget about it?

I went back to the pantry and sat, firm as a New York City detective, at the door. I was on surveillance, and I would sit there until the voice would identify itself! I softly hummed, “I will not be, I will not be moved. Just like a tree planted by the water, I will not be moved.” Suddenly the voice spoke again! I felt like shouting, “Come out with your hands up!”

I scratched my head. What was in that pantry? How could it be? Suddenly I was inspired. Maybe the voice had come from downstairs? Maybe someone was downstairs in the dark, foreboding fruit cellar directly underneath the pantry and was calling for help!

I left my spot at the door and went downstairs. I walked slowly. What was the rush? I did not want anyone to be frightened. I would be cautious. No use scaring the voice!

I tiptoed through the family room to the fruit cellar. I paused. Everything was quiet. No voice, no movement. No nothing.

Why not turn around and go upstairs? No harm done. Let the Charmin baby talk.

I guess I could open the door and make sure.

I jerked open the door . . . just in time to hear the smoke alarm above me saying, “Dead battery!”

The Big Race

With apologies to Aesop

One day the hare felt rather frisky. He was boasting that he was the best hare in all of Holmes, Wayne, and Coshocton Counties. He jumped up and down, flexed his muscles, and ran his mouth. Close by, the tortoise crept along the woodland path not giving much heed to anything except finding breakfast. Whereas the hare was loudmouthed and arrogant, the tortoise was mild-mannered and tended to his own business. All the neighbors in Berlin Woods had little good to say about the hare, but they loved the tortoise.

The tortoise was just creeping into the small clearing when the hare challenged anyone in Berlin Woods to a race. “I bet I can beat anyone in any race. I am better than any four footed, two footed, upright, downright, upside down, or downside up creeper, walker, or racer. I can beat anyone, under any circumstances. I am the fastest and best,” he boasted lifting his ears straight toward the sky.

The woods rang with his boastful words. Racky, Tracky, and Smacky, the Raccoon triplets smirked at his words, but remained silent. Smacky wanted to challenge him to a tree climbing contest, but thought better than to draw attention to himself. Blossom Possum smiled but said nothing. Hoot sat on a branch and wisely refrained from giving advice. Chic Adee clung to the bark of a big oak tree eating a delicious breakfast of ants.

Suddenly, a wee voice spoke out, “I will race.”

The hare stopped his bragging and cocked one ear forward. “Who has accepted the challenge?”

“I did,” the wee voice spoke again.

The hare looked all around and up into the branches, but could not find the speaker. “Where are you?”

“Here I am. Down here.”

The hare looked down but all he saw was the tortoise.

“I don’t see anyone. Who are you?”

“It is me, the tortoise.”

The hare stared at the tortoise in surprised and then burst out laughing. He laughed so hard that he fell over backward. He rolled in the grass laughing hilariously. His laughter brought more of the animals to the clearing.

Finally, when the hare had emptied his laughing box he stammered, “I will not race you. I have more dignity than that. Go find an ant to race.”

He then kept bragging about his ability. Hoot looked down at the hare. “You challenged anyone to a race. The tortoise accepted that challenged. You said ‘anyone’ so are you going back on your word?”

The hare pondered Hoot’s words as the Raccoon triplets challenged him to keep his words. Chic chipped him on. Blossom looked him square in the eyes and smiled his challenge. All the other animals cheered.

“All right, I’ll race you,” the hare said to the tortoise. Let’s get started.”

“Not yet,” the tortoise responded in a small voice. Let’s wait until after dinner.”

“What! Let’s get this over.”

“You said you would race anyone under any conditions. I want to wait until after dinner.”

The tortoise was interrupted by the raucous laughter from the hare. After he quit laughing the tortoise spoke again. “How far do you want to race?”

The hare lifted himself to his full height. “I will make it easy for you. I will give you plenty of time. Let’s start at the big rock and finish right here. Do you agree?”

“I do. After dinner?”

“Of course,” said the hare in a disinterested tone of voice.

After dinner when the hare had filled himself with delicious carrots he showed up at the big rock. Most of the woodland animals were strung along the path from the big rock to the clearing. The hare, feigning indifference lay down in the grass to wait on the tortoise. It was time to start the race before the tortoise slowly crept to the rock.

“Okay, get ready,” wise old Hoot, hooted. When I hoot three times, run!

The hare got up, yawned, and ambled to the tortoise’ side. “Did you have your dinner?” he asked sarcastically.

“Yes, thank you,” the tortoise responded cheerfully.

“Hoot.” Everyone stretched forward.

“Hoot.” Tension was in the air as the crowd anticipated the last hoot.

“Hoot!”

The tortoise crept forward as fast as his little legs could go. The hare did not move. The tortoise continued his slow way forward. The crowd watched as the hare lay down. The tortoise crept out of sight around the bend. Suddenly the hare jumped up and streaked forward, charged around the bend, passed the tortoise in a blur, and disappeared.

The tortoise, not looking to either side, continued his slow walk forward. Meanwhile, the hare being almost at the finish line, stopped. He went to the side of the path and lay down. “I’ll just take a little nap,” he said to the crowd.

The tortoise crept forward an inch at a time. The silent crowd was almost embarrassed at the slow progress of the tortoise. Oblivious to the atmosphere of the crowd the tortoise focused on finishing the race. Slowly, inch by inch, the tortoise came closer to the finish line. The sleeping hare dreamed of carrots and prestige.

When the tortoise came up to the sleeping hare, he padded silently past and made his way to the finish line. The crowd gasped as he crept forward. When he was within reach of the finish line the cheering crowd awoke the hare. He opened his eyes and looked down the path but did not see the hare. He then looked toward the finish line where the tortoise was ready to step across. The hare flew into action, and raced forward. But, alas the hare was an ear short of winning the race. The tortoise stepped over the line.

I decided to interview the hare about this dramatic race but he refused, so I interviewed the tortoise. I discovered that the tortoise knew something that we all need to know.

“Why did you accept the race? Surely, you knew that you could not win?”

The tortoise looked at me for a moment before replying. “No, I did not know that I could not win. I did not race to win anyway.”

“I don’t understand,” I responded puzzled. “What do you mean, you did not race to win?”

“I did not race to beat the rabbit,” he said in his short sentence way.

“But you entered the race.”

“Very true. The hare wanted to beat me. I did not need to beat him. He needed to win a race. I needed to run in a race.”

I was puzzled, but I thought I was slowly beginning to understand the tortoise.

“The rabbit ran against me. I did not run against him. I did not run to win. I ran to finish. You see, the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong.”

I slowly understood what the tortoise saw. We all are in a race: the race of life. The race is not a competition against anyone. This is not that kind of race. We do not challenge anyone so we can feel good about ourselves. The challenge is to go forward day by day, moment by moment. The race is not to the swift, but to the deliberate, the focused, the visionary. The race must be completed. Though others may be swift, they may also be the losers. It is better to stay focused and remain slow, than to be fast and distracted.

The hare depended on his own ability. His ability was his long legs. His objective was to win in order to feel feel good about himself. His own ability, which was his strength made him over confident. His perspective was out of tune because he focused on himself. The tortoise did not focus on his ability. He didn’t have ability to put against the hare’s ability. He looked at the goal. He pressed in. He won.

Indian Turnips

Life is full of odd things, full of extremes, and full of older brothers who enjoy antagonizing younger brothers. My older brother Roy and his companions of folly, frivolity, and fumbles spent many hours in the woods. At times they would spend an entire day in the woods, sometimes shooting a rabbit and roasting it over an open fire.

My twin brother Ivan and I wondered what they did in the woods all day and wanted to go along, if nothing more than simply being accepted by the older boys. The answer to the question of whether we could go along was always a resounding “no!” The question of “why not?” was considered so preposterous that any kind of lengthy explanation would be unworthy of consideration. ‘Cause was their answer, and that was that, like it or not—‘cause!

Of course Ivan and I were persistent and clamored for our rights. Just because we were a little smaller than them, why couldn’t we? ‘Cause! We would grow up soon enough, so why could we not go along? ‘Cause! We can keep up, we know we can! No! Why? ‘Cause! The clamor was met with more clamors of perfectly good reasons why little people were unworthy to be considered. Little people, bah! Why, I could almost touch the red gas lantern that hung from the kitchen ceiling.

One day the three companions made plans to go to the woods and do things that boys do in the woods. This time our clamor to go along brought our mother into the fray. This time the companions’ arguments fell on futile ears and mother made the big boys take us “little boys” along.

Ivan and I were a jolly pair as we kept pace with the three bigger boys walking through the tall, prickly grass of the un-mowed meadow. The boys were a boisterous bunch as they led us into the woods, boasting what they would do if they were Indians, cowboys, Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, or anyone else other than who they were. Ivan and I had fun as we ran, slid, and stumbled along pretending that we could do what they could and that we knew what they knew.

Suddenly one of the older boys stopped, got out his hunting knife, and stooped to dig up a root that he insisted was the best eating you could find in the woods. “Indian Turnip,” he called it. He cleaned up the root and offered it to me and Ivan. We were skeptical and refused it. But after convincing us that they had eaten it before and it was very good, we took it, if nothing more than to prove that if they could eat it then we could eat it, regardless of taste or fear of death.

After taking a bite and gingerly crunching it, my taste buds brought the reality of scheming older boys into sharp focus. The root was strong as fresh horseradish mixed with old onions but more pungent and cruel than both could muster at their best. We spit, coughed, and spit some more. I finally took out my handkerchief and tried to wipe the inside of my mouth with no results. Our eyes watered as we spit and suffered. Gloating in their revenge for our persistence, clamoring, and interference with their big boy activities, our companions laughed with glee at our misery.

We continued miserably along, not enjoying ourselves as much as before, scheming what would be the best way to get revenge in the woods. Though the boys got a big thrill at seeing us suffer, little did they know that they were not yet out of the woods. As we walked along, our misery gradually subsided and we began to enjoy ourselves again.

The boys were looking for a special grapevine they could swing from. It was not long as we frolicked along before Eli saw the right one. “I found one!” he shouted gleefully as he ran for it.

It was a long vine that had attached itself to the top of a tall tree and then had detached itself at the bottom. The tree stood tall at the edge of a steep gully. The vine was at the exact right place for boys to optimize their pleasure and boasting rights of having found the perfect vine at the perfect spot, and no one else knew where it was, so there!

Normally when you found a vine you tugged at it, pulled on it, and proved it, but only if you were not Eli. If you were Eli, you just grabbed it and went over the edge. Eli grabbed that vine and ran with it with all his might, knowing that this was the thrill that would fill.

When he got to the edge of the gully, it swung him far over the edge much to his youthful delight. When he swung back for a landing, hanging on for dear life, the vine, way up in the solid tree, let go. Eli, vine, future rides, boasting rights, and pride all came crashing down into the gully.

Since Ivan and I were too young to know that Eli could have killed himself, we shouted for joy to see our antagonist come to such a painful end. Eli got up stiffly off the ground as we laughed with glee. Though neither Ivan nor I had anything to do with his situation, we gloated and laughed for a long time. Every so often during that day one of us would shout, “I found one!”

We came home that evening feeling good that we had made it through the day and that misery had begat misery. We wanted to do it again, this time without the Indian radish but definitely with the vine!

We should not have gloated over Eli’s misfortune, but we were young and ignorant. The Golden Rule was not clear to us yet. The lesson to be learned is that what goes around comes around. That goes for the antagonist and the antagonized.

 

A Sacrificed Shirt

My wife bought me a new shirt. It was an appealing blue, my favorite shirt color. I was going with a group to volunteer for four days in a prison. I would be away from my family for a whole week since it took a day to get there plus a day for orientation. That new shirt would help me get through the week.

When I got to the motel that would be my home away from home for a week, I carefully hung up my shirts. There was little room to hang anything else. The rod was right against the lavatory. My new shirt hung first in line. Seeing it was a constant reminder that my wife was home keeping the home fires going, while I tried to light some fires of hope in the inmates at the prison.

Of course I would not wear that shirt the first day. I did not want it languishing in the laundry bag for a week! It was about the third morning that I decided this was the day. This was when I would wear the gifted shirt. When I reached for the shirt, I noticed something peculiar. Lifting it off the hanger I took a closer look. It was covered with spots. Puzzled, I stared at it for some time then opened the faucet and held a small area under the water, vigorously rubbing the defiled spot. No difference. I rubbed it some more; still no difference.

I stared at that shirt for quite some time. The spots were lighter in color than the rest of the shirt. It took a while, but eventually the proverbial light went on in my brain. I thought I knew the answer. I stared at the shirt again. My blood pressure went up. My frustration level went alarmingly high. I realized two things about my precious shirt: it was ruined, and I could do nothing about it.

A little later when I went out of my room I saw a cleaning lady a few doors down. Walking up to her I bid her good morning and then asked if she had cleaned my room the day before. She acknowledged that she had. I then asked if she uses cleaning agents that might contain bleach. She affirmed that she does.

I asked her to check out something in my room. I turned, and she followed. I left the door open and walked to my shirt. When I showed her the shirt, she became pale. She knew immediately what she had done. When she cleaned the sink, she had splattered the cleaner on my shirt, thus bleaching it for life. The woman clutched her throat and looked at me with sad eyes, apologizing mournfully. I pitied that poor, apologizing woman. She did not let up. I began to feel like the perpetrator in a crime.

I quickly assured the lady that I completely forgave her and that I was not going to tell her superiors about it. She looked at me with gratitude, but continued apologizing. I told her that I had been forgiven many times and I forgave her as well. I had to do this a number of times before she realized that I really did forgive her. She left the room still apologizing.

Later as I left the room, I walked up to her and told her that God had unconditionally forgiven me of terrible sins, so I wanted to extend the same to her. She then began to share her troubles. Her mother was terminally ill, her brother had to go to prison, and she was struggling with her children. She poured out her heart.

As I listened to her, I realized that my precious shirt was sacrificed so I could encourage this dear lady. After she poured out her struggles, I tried to encourage her. I assured her that there is always something to hope for and that her situation would get better. Slowly her face brightened and hope shone in her eyes. When I left her, she felt better and so did I.

I took that bleached shirt home with me. It was a trophy from God. My wife gave it out of love, God used it to minister love, and I sacrificed it with joy!