Doggone it!

I love animals. The puppies, the kitties. The horses. As a kid, I went to camp every year, and rode away in to the sunset aboard many a noble steed, on paths now overgrown with Northern Kentucky development, but when I was a wee lass, were the woods and wilds of Camp Marydale.

I had a paper route in the seventh grade, and in addition to packing my papers into the route bag, I also filled my pockets with Milk Bones, ready to feed the hordes of strays and their most-likely owned brethern who followed me around. That year, I determined I would grow up, go to college and become a veterinarian, and bolstered by reading every installment of the James Heriott All Creatures Great and Small books, knew I was meant to be the savior of all animal-kind.

Then I ran up against college calculus and, unsurprisingly, kept taking classes in English and political science and wound up the writer type personage you see before you today.

But I never gave up loving the puppies, the kitties. The Internet explosion of Teh Cute shows me that I’m not alone, but frankly I think things have gone a little too far.

Story time. The other day, someone dropped by NouveauSoileau, made a few comments and made me smile, so I checked out her blog. I was amused by the name,  I Don’t Get It, and it bears the helpful tag line “Things That Don’t Make Sense.”

How many, many things could fall into that category.

So as I was trudging through the Wal-mart Sunday, laying in the weekly supplies of all the healthy, nutritious foodstuffs I provide on a daily basis to my teeming horde, I beheld a sight which made me think of her.

“I don’t get it,” I thought to myself.

Seriously, WTF
WTF

“Here is a thing that Does. Not. Make. Sense.”

This is dog food. Food for dogs, and cats apparently, that is FRESH. It also, as you can see, is SELECT. It obviously is CHOICE and meant for the pwecious widdle pups and dwarling witty kitties which now make up pets in America and frankly, I am OMG about it.

I have been a tad OMG over pet ownership for a little while; a couple years ago I was irritated by ad in Southern Living I think it was, featuring big doe-eyed doggies begging MOM to do, or not do, something. “Mom, buy me this dog food,” or “Mom, please get me this flea collar.” I would look these furry faces straight in the eye and say, “I gave birth to human beings, not animals, pal — don’t you even DARE call me ‘mom!'”

My growling didn’t have much effect on a print ad, but it made me feel better.

Now I’m confronted by pet-food manufacturers who have installed refrigerators in the dog-food aisle containing some sort of fresh meat and, apparently, people are buying it.

They’re also the type of people, I’d say, who are buying these.

Dog dresses, 2013

Dog dresses. With bows and flowers. For dogs.

Of course I’ve seen the little sweaters and even T-shirts you can shove onto your schnauzer; everyone has, for years. But this, this is just too much.

Dogs aren’t people, people. They’re animals. Yes, they’re wonderful companions, yes they bring a lot of joy to a lot of people. Yes, I am for the kind and humane treatment of animals. But I have to say I am not for the ridiculous expenditures Americans with more money than sense are obviously making at Wal-mart and other places to feed and dress their dogs better than many, many humans are fed and clothed both here and around the world.

Sure, spend your money on stupid stuff, we’ve all got our vices *cough*shoes*cough. But I’m still going to point, laugh, and drag out my internet acronyms and WTF and OMG my way down the aisle with a side dose of I Don’t Get It. It’s one of those things, the blogosphere has taught us, that Just Don’t Make Sense.

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I’ve eaten squirrel

Way back in the 1980s, when Madonna was new and Lady Gaga was only a noise you made in the privacy of your own bathroom, I was the editor of a weekly newspaper.

It was a turbulent time in my life; at 23 I had aspirations of big-time journalism but was hampered by things like having to write on an electric typewriter and supervising an editorial staff of two, which included myself. The job was enlivened by the fact that I was presiding over the sole publication of the town where I was reared, and by spending much of a summer covering a grisly murder trial, the defendant in which was a member of my high-school graduating class.

Mmmmmmm

None of that has anything to do, however, with the fact that during this year, 1986, I consumed fried squirrel.

One of the things I miss desperately about being a reporter is all the interesting and unexpected things you get to do. In no particular order, among other duties both savory and unsavory, I’ve —

• Interviewed and photographed Cheryl Ladd

• Toured a dairy farm

• Covered a wedding between two carnival workers, on a Tilt-a-Whirl

• Profiled an all-senior citizen jazz band

• Interviewed a World War I veteran

• Written about a pet cemetery

Any one of these items would make an interesting blog post, and of course each made an interesting story published in an actual newspaper. Since my foray into television, I’ve also profiled a llama farm, the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, and ostrich burgers, as well as written scripts on subjects ranging from Melungeons to a Kentucky Derby winner.

Of course, along the way, you attend a lot of meetings of planning and zoning commissions, city councils, school boards, and just plain boreds. You wait outside in the hall during a lot of executive sessions, and you go to bed after four-hour meetings that end at midnight, and then get to work by 7 a.m. to write three stories based on that meeting for publication that afternoon.

But you also get to eat fried squirrel.

Rodents aren’t the only thing I consumed in the name of rural journalism; I once was the delighted recipient of a pound of home-churned butter. The lady who churned it had served as a “correspondent” for a neighboring town’s weekly for — oh, I don’t remember now — maybe 50 years, and I was profiling her and her little homey column. For those of you not raised in rural areas, local papers often published news from little communities about who’s visiting who, births and deaths, and other ordinary occurrences. It’s a throwback to a simpler time, when such goings-on were actually news.

The reason the butter was memorable (in addition to it was incredibly delicious on toasted homemade wheat bread) was that I was able to gaze upon the actual cow who produced the milk that made the butter, as I sat on the front porch interviewing the gracious correspondent. Her husband also plowed using draft horses, an incredible sight to see.

As was the plate of squirrel.

The squirrel actually was tied, metaphorically speaking, to the World War I veteran, whom I heard about from a representative of the local VFW (or Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post. The local post provided a watering hole for veterans, and did good works, too, like getting a WWI vet a hearing aid he couldn’t afford. They thought I might want to “write up” the donation, which I did — but I was much more interested in meeting him. This event is now more than 20 years ago, but even in the 1980s it was still far, far removed from a conflict that ended when women didn’t even have the vote. Hells yes, I wanted to interview him!

Which I did, and duly published the story of our meeting, which mainly was conducted via writing the questions on my pad, since he was stone deaf and hadn’t yet received the hearing aid. Yet he recited, from memory, in German, a poem he learned after the war, where he spent a few years doing something with German industry.

And then, I was invited to the VFW Post to dine on squirrel.

It was, as I have mentioned, fried, so I can report it was delicious — inasmuch as anything batter-dipped and deep-fried is. It also, as I always report when relaying this tale, tasted like nuts. I absolutely am not making that up. Nuts. Yes, indeed, fried squirrel tastes like nuts.

That’s just the sort of education rural journalism will provide, along with murder trials, meeting movie stars, politicians — and other celebrities, like butter-producing cows grazing in the pasture off the front porch, and Great War vets who will recite poetry for a rapt audience of one, in a tiny town in rural Kentucky.

Blink and you’ll miss it

One of my earliest memories is from the time when my family moved to Carrollton, Ky. —  a small town by any standard, even those of Kentucky, a largely rural state.

I was only 3 years old but I was already attuned to the conversations of adults in my little world. And much of that conversation had to do with leaving the Big City and establishing life in a place where no one locked their doors, neighbors sat on their front porches in the evenings and held conversations across the yard, and sidewalks were an engrossing subject.

Well at least I thought they were pretty important, at the age of 3, because people seemed to remark upon them pretty often.

Sidewalks became a fact of my life as a grew up in Carrollton; they were our roads, our connection to friends, our four-square games modified to two-square, our hopscotch lanes, and drawing palettes.

We lived on the sidewalks and alleys, on the walks to individual houses and on driveways to every home. It was the late 1960s and early ’70s, and we lived outdoors from April through November. It’s where we learned to ride our bikes, shooting from dad to dad — one to launch you, another to catch you, until you mastered breaking — and it’s where we burned the soles of our feet as we went barefoot through our childhoods.

In all my time living this outdoor life upon the sidewalks, though, I never once observed the mechanism that permitted them to be rolled up. For we lived, don’t you know, in a town so small they roll the sidewalks up at night.

According to my father, the place was also populated by little men with torches. If you kept a keen eye, you would see them racing up the streetlights, illuminating each one every night as dusk fell.

And you wonder where I get my imagination.

Yes, Carrollton was small. “If you blink, you’ll miss it,” was another old saw now applied to my little hometown — although even I knew this wasn’t precisely true. There were plenty of places within the county, and surrounding ones too, that were far more easily missed if you tarried too long on the upswing of a blink. Milton, for one, another Ohio River town notable, with its bridge, as a launching point for Madison, Ind. And then Sanders, a place not given to a great many distinguishing characteristics apart from the “beefalo” cattle/buffalo cross a farmer raised there when I was in high school. Yes, we drove out there to look.

Indeed, I spend my childhood looking — looking for the Canadian Garfunkels, small sweet tame little animals my dad said roamed wild in Canada. I kept my nose pressed to the glass as we drove through this exotic foreign country one summer when I was around 9. If I spotted one, Dad said, he’s stop and I could have it for a pet.

This is a capybara, though.
What I more or less envisioned.

(Years later, my parents took another vacation trip to Canada, this time sans kids, who now were more content at summer camp. My gift they brought back for me from this expedition was a tiny funky little toy animal, sewn from sealskin … a Canadian Garfunkel. I cherish it still.)

I looked for trucks being weighed at the perpetually closed Weigh Station along I-71 between Louisville and Carrollton. When finally it was open, one night when we were returning home late from visiting family in Louisville, my parents awakened me to see, knowing how much it would mean to me to finally witness the mysterious Weigh Station in action.

I looked, too, for how the prices on the gasoline stations’ signs were changed, for they certainly were changed, by the 1970s, with some regularity. It gives me a small thrill to this day, to see these signs changed through use of a long pole with the numbers stuck on the end. I lament the advent of electronic signs broadcasting the price per gallon from truck stops along the Interstates — too easy. No mystery involved.

The mysteries of childhood become the world of the mundane for the adult. Yet roll-up sidewalks and gnomes who light streetlights still populate my dreams. I may have grown up in a place so small that if you blink, you’ll miss it. But it’s the richness of life between these blinks that still fires my imagination — whether or not I ever spot a roadside Garfunkel or beefalo on the roam.

My home town

I’ve been thinking about the place I’m from for the last few days. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve made contact and chatted with people that, in a different world, I may have never spoken to again. Not out of animosity, but simply because I doubt our paths ever would have crossed.

I rarely go to Carrollton any more; since my mother moved away in the 1990s, I no longer have any family there and I have to, as I tell people, “mean to go.” That happened in 2003 when I thought my then-boyfriend might like to see where I’m from; yes, my husband and I had a very good time.

But every few years, I get together with a few members of our old “gang” — we actually did, and still do, refer to ourselves that way. We re-established contact with one another in 2001, just a few weeks before 9/11, and have managed to cobble together mini-reunions every couple years or so. That doesn’t count last summer, though, when the mother of one of my best friends died. Attending her funeral allowed us back in touch, but the occasion was far too sad to have much fun.

So Facebook calls Carrollton to mind. And 2011 — the 30th anniversary of my graduation from high school. Thir-tee years? A 20-year reunion — well, that just sounds like Yes, Time Has Passed. Thirty years sounds like grandparents and where’s my scooter and the bottle of Geritol.

Be that as it may, in the spring of 1981, I graduated along with 111 other souls from Carroll County High School. Then I went out into the world.

Sidewalks and alley-ways

In some ways, my childhood was idyllic, insular. My little world revolved around Ninth Street and my friends along those two blocks: Lisa and Greg; Laura and all her brothers and sisters; Chris, Luanne, Ginny; the Bunnings, the Hills. It was a neighborhood overrun with kids, and with widow ladies. We played in their backyards, we patrolled the alleys behind all our houses, sucking the nectar out of the blossoms on the honeysuckle bushes and collecting pebbles in the alleys’ crude roadbeds.

Along with those alleys, the sidewalks and the trees were our homes. We were always outside, drawing hopscotch or four-square blocks on the sidewalks or driveways. We climbed, until we were gooey with sap, to the top of the highest pine tree in the back yard at the corner of Tenth and Sycamore streets.

And if we weren’t climbing or inventing some game or another on the sidewalks, we were riding our bikes. Our bikes were freedom, fast-moving freedom, and I’ll never forget my blue flowered banana-seat bike. I rode it until I got my 10-speed for my 12th birthday — which widened my horizons to the edge of every city limit Carrollton had.

We lived in a small square house with red shutters and dormers upstairs. A single window unit air-conditioner cooled the entire downstairs; upstairs, box fans blew the hot air out during long sweltering summers. In the winter noisy, banging steam radiators heated the house. Oh, how warm they were. A bay window looked out over Seminary Street and the cemetery beyond. Mom always made us be quiet during funerals.

People had problems and there were tragedies, but like most children, I was insulated from the world of adults and their troubles. For me, life was school, friends, and St. John’s Catholic Church.

St. John’s had a school but it closed after my third-grade year. But I’ll never forget the boys in my class (for I was the only girl). I sang in the choir, and knew without realizing it that we had one of the most beautiful voices in the world in the person of our church organist, Nancy Jo Grobmeyer. The choir was filled with some of the sweetest ladies I have ever known — Janie and Helen, sisters; Jeannie, many others. Life at St. John’s was my life: going to the annual Halloween Party, potlucks without number, the mysterious Easter Vigil Mass, 40 Hours Devotion. They’re all tied together in the sweetness that was my childhood.

I know I’ll go back again — some time soon, the gang will get back together and we’ll watch as our children will make another leap in age, going off to college and to their own lives. Most likely I’ll go to the class of 1981’s 30th reunion — if my Facebook campaign to organize it is successful.

It’s often said that to know who you are, you have to know where you’re from. I know where I’m from — a small town in Kentucky, sitting at the confluence of two rivers. Sure, small-town life has its faults — and I know as I’m sitting here this morning, I’m glossing over the lows and difficulties faced by any kid growing up.

But you know, sitting here I also am quite proud of the place that helped form who I am. That close-knit community nurtured and cared for me, and I know any time I go there, there are folks who would welcome me, even after I’ve been 30 years gone.