Archive for the ‘Family and Other Odd Creatures’ Category

November 25, 2007

March of the Penguins

The other night I happened upon a TV special called “March of the Penguins”. I thought it was going to be that dancing penguin thing and settled in for some light entertainment.

OH, but I found SO much more.

In fact, I couldn’t stop watching, even when I found it was much different than I’d thought, and I want to tell y’all in case you see it’s on TV sometime and think it doesn’t sound all that interesting.

Oh, but it is. It IS.

The people doing this special chose one small family among the hundreds of penguin families on one breeding ground in the Antarctica and followed them over the course of several months and horrific weather changes.

After the mother and father’s baby penguin was born, the mother had to leave to replinish her system with food after her long pregnancy. It’s the custom among penguins for the father to take over care of their progeny when the mother has to leave for food, so the father swept the baby under HIS tummy, where it could be warm, and the mother took off with all the other new mothers to head for the ocean where they could eat and store food in their bodies to bring back to their babies. This is a long, long trek both ways. It takes days and sometimes more. But on they plod toward the ocean.

While the mother was gone, a horrible winter gale swept in. All the male penguins, hundreds of them, huddled together, switching places from time to time so the guys on the outside wouldn’t bear all the brunt of the wind and bitter cold. The mother was gone for a while but the fathers took great care of their little ones. In fact, it was quite touching to watch, especially when the father had to cough up a special secretion to feed the hungry baby when its mother was late getting back, because he knew the baby would die without food.

The mother eventually came back, took over her baby’s care, sweeping it under her tummy again, nourishing and keeping it warm as possible while the fathers all headed for the ocean so they could eat.

Also, the mother began at this point to teach the baby little things, just as a human mother would do. Up to this point, the baby had pretty much been a teeny blob who traveled around by walking ON its parents’ feet while still being kept protected under their stomachs, only showing its head to squeak for food, then right back under the parents’ stomach.

Now the father, having eaten after his long trek to the ocean, came back and took over the baby’s care so the mother could go eat again. The baby was growing now and beginning to explore. Unfortunately, it explored a little too much and died.

Here’s the part I thought was so profound, so agonizing, that I actually sat and cried, totally mesmerized by this panorama when the mother came back.

The breeding grounds, where they spend most of their time, is a huge, crowded place, with hundreds of penguins roiling around all the time. Still, the mother found the father and then she started looking around for her baby.

She spotted it on the outside of the mass of milling penguins, went over to it, poked it with her beak, obviously trying to make it get up. It took her a minute or so to realize the baby was dead.

The minute she did, she started to wail. There was no mistaking it. This female penguin was in deep, agonizing grief because her child was gone forever. I saw unmistakeable pain, both in her cries and her body movements. Never mind that they’d have another baby next mating season. This mother loved THIS baby.

I’ve never been so awestruck by anything in the animal world. I actually could not believe it. The love and caring in this little family was SO evident nobody watching this story unfold could possibly miss it. No script here, this was real.

One of the reasons this hit me so hard was that all through this two hour special I had been thinking, these are families, and for some reason all they DO is live to have babies and take care of them. They go to the breeding grounds to have them, then they take that tremendously long walk over ice, in terrible conditions, to jump into the ocean and eat so they can feed them. They do this over and over, and I found myself wondering, why? What’s the purpose of all this? Why were these particular animals (or mammals) even put in this terrible, cold place only to have to struggle day in and day out, only to have more baby penguins and go through terrible conditions all through their entire lives just to do this?

Well, I don’t know the answer. I guess that’s up to a Higher Power to tell us one day. But for now, to me, seeing this devotion, this caring, this deep love, I found myself thinking, wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if all humans did the same thing. Love our kids and do everything in our power to take care of them, to raise them right.

Just think. If humans ALL did this, we wouldn’t have the kind of problems we have. We wouldn’t have kids turning to gangs and drugs and murdering each other. We wouldn’t have people all over the world ignoring the inevitable results to kids, anybody’s kids, by going out and blowing up people and buildings and even entire countries.

We wouldn’t have politicians worldwide ignoring the future of today’s kids while they wrangle for centuries over money and oil and territory and ancient blood feuds. There wouldn’t be any blood feuds, because if the people feuding gave one second’s serious thought to the effect on their children instead of their own anger, they’d realize how stupid blood feuds actually are.

If only WE ALL thought long and hard about our children and everyone else’s children all over the world, before making even more mistakes than we’ve already made, there’d be a lot less bloodshed worldwide, all of it completely unnecessary.

Think grandkids, not oil and more money in your bank account. That’s what animals do. Should we not try to be at least as good to our children and grandchildren as they are?

There’s a lot to be learned from a little movie called March of the Penguins. That was my personal epiphany the other night. Not that I didn’t know all these things anyhow, but somehow, watching a two hour special about penguins brought it all home to me in a most profound way.

I hope you get to see it yourself soon if you haven’t already. I don’t see how anyone could fail to be tremendously touched by it.

Hey, y’all, thanks for stopping by, and I hope you come back again next week. You never know what’ll happen with Hotclue between now and then.

We love y’all, you KNOW we do!
Hotclue, Beth and Sarge, who just scratched on the back of my chair and said “Hey!” (Or was that “Treats!”)

Family and Other Odd Creatures | 4 Comments  

October 15, 2006

If I Could Go Back To Just One Day in Time…

…it would be one special Sunday at my grandmother’s house in Metropolis, Illinois when I was five years old.

Today there’s an empty lot where her house stood. Across the street, which is now paved, is a baseball field. My Grandma’s yard itself seems astonishingly small when I see it today. It looks as though no house could possibly have been built there, for sure not one that could have held a couple and six children. But it was and it did. She raised her whole family there, as well as several grandchildren from time to time.

It’s hard to describe the magic of Grandma’s house through the eyes of a five-year-old because five-year-olds see things so differently. But there’s one Sunday I clearly remember, and thinking about it today, I’m five years old again.

It’s a warm summer day. The breakfast biscuits and butter and sorgum molasses and eggs have been cleared away by Grandma, who is now in the back yard chasing down a chicken for Sunday dinner–the only day of the week we have meat. Most of the time it’s beans and biscuits or corn bread, which seems perfectly natural to me. Grandma grabs the chicken, ignoring my shrieks, swings it around by the head, breaks its neck, and proceeds to de-feather it outside over a pot of boiling water–the same pot she’ll use to boil water to wash clothes in on Monday, using a washboard and bars of lye soap she made herself in large wooden tubs. After the chicken is clean, she puts it in her ice box in a big blue and white pottery bowl to soak in fresh buttermilk.

Then, every Sunday, she puts on her black hat, which she attaches to her hair with two hat pins, and walks a block to the small church where she worships. Sometimes I go with her. This day I don’t. I stay home, take a small piece of charcoal, and head across the dirt road to the tennis courts where I never see anyone play tennis, and sit on the warm concrete, drawing pictures. It’s okay for kids to draw on the concrete. Everyone knows the next rain will wash it away.

When I get tired of that, I head back to Grandma’s yard where I pull several tiny flowers from her flower garden and sit by the water pump in the side yard, under the big cherry tree, digging in the dirt and re-planting those same flowers. I turn them into my own garden, longing to have one someday just like Grandma’s. Her garden, which seems to go on endlessly, is half flowers; rows and rows of them on one side of the path all the way from the house and back to the outhouse. Sunflowers three times as tall as I am, hollyhocks and yellow and orange zinnias and snapdragons and honeysuckle and roses will bloom there all summer long.

It’s a funny thing about that half of her garden. I always wonder why there are so many flowers until I realize, years later, that those flowers are her beauty and her dreams. She plants snapdragons and honeysuckle hoping hummingbirds will come, and they do. The yard is full of them. That garden, to me, is a symbol of the simplicity and tranquility of that time. When years later I see a yard full of flowers like that, I always stop, breathing in their earthy beauty, thinking about her. And I cry.

The other side of the yard is a riot of vegetables, rows and rows of corn and beans and lettuce and red and yellow tomatoes and green peppers, which she cans all through the summer so we can have vegetables over the winter. Her trips to the store are short. There isn’t much she needs there, other than more flour. She makes her own lard in the fall when my grandfather kills the pigs, which she also cans for the winter.

She starts Sunday dinner as soon as she comes home from church because on a wood burning stove it takes that long. First she mixes the biscuit dough, pouring a huge pile of flour on the only counter she has, swirling her hand into it to make a hole, where she pours milk and lard and salt and baking powder, then continues to swirl until the liquid has picked up enough of the flour to make a huge ball of dough. The leftover flour goes back in the bin. Nothing is ever wasted in Grandma’s house. I watch this from my corner. It fascinates me to watch her make biscuits because there’s something magic about her hand movements, always so sure, so swift. So loving.

This day, she fries the chicken and we sit around the table. My grandfather dips his biscuits into a saucer of molasses, my grandmother passes the chicken and boiled potatoes and string beans and lettuce and tomatoes. And a bowl of great northern beans, always. My grandfather, a quiet man, never says much during mealtime. My uncles, who are still young and at home, laugh and crack jokes, full of the joy of life, still looking forward to the rest of their lives, unaware of the good as well as the tragedy that lies ahead. But for today, I can barely wait to finish dinner, because today we’re making ice cream.

An hour passes while my grandmother clears up the dinner table and then I sit on the front porch with them, dying for the ice cream-making to start. But this is Sunday and the pace is slow. The ice cream will come, but it’s so rare to have it that I’m bursting with excitement.

Finally they give in to my pleas and we all head out back. I watch while the whole family pitches in. My grandmother stirs the milk and sugar and vanilla and egg custard she made in the house earlier and pours it into the metal container. My grandfather puts the chipped ice–which he chipped in a burlap bag–into the ice cream maker, alternating it with salt. My uncles begin to take turns churning the handle.

It takes forever.

They add more ice. More salt. I’m mesmerized. I cannot take my eyes off that brown wooden bucket. After an eternity, the handle begins to move slower. It’s getting hard now. It won’t be long and I can barely sit still, but I do.

My uncles are sweating because of the exertion and also, they say, because it’s hot, but I don’t feel the heat. I never do at Grandma’s. Her house is air-conditioned by God.

My uncles offer to let me turn the handle and laugh at me when I can’t. Then, finally, it’s time.

They open the bucket, slowly…so excruciatingly slow…scraping the ice and salt off, pulling the metal container out. I’m almost screaming with anticipation but I don’t make a sound. Not now. I can’t. We’re about to have homemade ice cream.

Grandma carries the container into the kitchen. We all follow her. We sit around the table while she dishes it out. First to my grandfather. Next, my uncles. Finally, finally! she hands me a bowl full of vanilla ice cream and a spoon, and I begin to dig in. The cold sweetness, the unbelievably wonderful smell, and the taste, all things that I can’t begin to know, at the time, will stay in my mouth forever. I can feel the grains of sugar. I can almost count them as they slide down my throat fast, way too fast. My uncles tell jokes, it’s almost too hard to concentrate on the ice cream because they’re so funny this day. Even my grandfather, who rarely smiles, laughs out loud.

Finally the ice cream is gone from our plates, but it’ll never be gone from my mind.

I can tell you, no ice cream has never again tasted like that ice cream did on that long-ago Sunday at Grandma’s house. The whole day is still with me, all of it. Early in June in Metropolis, Illinois, when life was simple and secure, and love and laughter surrounded the life of a small five-year-old girl.

Thanks y’all, for stopping by and letting me go all nostalgic on you. But some days, ya know, it’s hard not to. Y’all come back again soon, ya hear me?

I love y’all, you KNOW I do,
Hotclue

Family and Other Odd Creatures | 11 Comments  

October 3, 2006

Nine and a Half Pounds of Dynamite

This is Beth Anderson, guest-blogging while Hotclue is off in Colorado trying to learn how to ski. I apologize for her absence, but her lessons seem to take longer than anyone else’s. Last I heard though she wasn’t skiing, she was sitting in the bar telling jokes. That is so like Hotclue. I apologize, also, for this post being made so late, but I’ve been meeting myself coming and going over the past few days. Hopefully I can make it up to you.

A big name author recently wrote that writers should never blog about their cats. Well, I’m going to anyhow, just this once.

My daughter Barb and her Totally Wonderful Significant Other, Chris, came up this past week to paint my living room and finish peeling the wallpaper off in our hallway (that we started peeling a year and a half ago) and paint that too. They brought their dog, Denali. A big dog. A friendly, galloping big dog. A sweet, friendly, loving, big, galloping dog.

I have three cats. All three are experts at psychological warfare. You don’t dare cross them because they retaliate. And of course, they don’t like dogs.

A little background here, before we get to this weekend’s debacle. (Yes, I know you’re not supposed to start writing anything with background, but I’m gonna, just this once.)

First, we have Jessica, who is almost 20 years old. We adopted her from a family who had to get rid of their cat. A co-worker who knew exactly what she was doing showed us her photo and I fell in love. I’d take her, but my friend had to take her to the vet to get her neutered and declawed, I was to pick her up and bring her home. I wanted her to love me, but I also didn’t want her sneaking out and having kittens, as young, un-neutered females are prone to do. We bonded that evening when she was still hiding under our bed and I slid a bowl of water and a dish of food under and reached my hand out to her at the same time. Jessica’s paw moved over, touched mine, and suddenly I had a cat.

Jessica is sweet, she’s gentle, but she also has a vile, petulant side. I’m almost sure she’s my mother-in-law reincarnated, who used her devious other-worldly ways to infiltrate herself into our lives just as she did when she was human. I adore her, and I’m sure my mother-in-law appreciates having me forever stroke her head, telling her how sweet and adorable she is.

Second up, Beemer, my boy cat. He picked up my husband outside of a restaurant one Halloween. Beemer was too young to have been running around loose, he obviously had been starving and one paw was burned. He followed my husband to the car. When my husband opened the door, Beemer jumped in. My husband called me from the car and informed me it looked like we now had two cats. I said no, absolutely not.

When I got home from work that night Beemer had already been to the vet, had all of his baby shots, his foot was bandaged and he was eating. He hasn’t stopped eating since, although he did take time out that night to jump up on my lap and purr into my neck. Of course I fell in love and he stayed. He still thinks he’s starving. He gets dry heaves when he’s not fed on time. (His time, not mine.) He’s huge now, he’s messy, he has a touchy stomach, he’s obstinate, but he loves me. What else can I say other than Beemer is male.

Last, I hope, but not least, The World’s #1 Worst Terrorist, Sarge. Sarge came to us in a friend’s pocket. Very tiny, the runt of the litter, the last one left, and–the story goes–they were going to take her to the pound. One peek at those sweet, innocent, dewy eyes and I was hooked. Here was an adorable tiny kitten who needed a home. I had a home. She took one look around and realized we were goyem. Little did we know how goyem we really were. Within one day she had climbed up a pair of $500 sheers on my living room picture window and torn them to shreds.

I hid the sheers so nobody would know she’d done that, which tells you how quickly I fall in love. In fact, I’ve never had her declawed because by that time I had decided declawing is a horrible thing to do to cats. As a result, Sarge has had her way with countless blowup mattresses, and the chair in my writing room is in shreds, but what’s most important, a chair or the cat? Sarge, so named because she has three stripes on her arms, rules the house. She’s little, she’s fast, she’s sneaky and she’s tough as hell. Just about what you’d expect from the runt out of a litter of eight.

But enough background. Back to the Big Redecorating Weekend.

In my infinite wisdom, I had figured out that if we kept all three cats in our bedroom all weekend, everything would be fine. I brought in their water bowls. Their dry food bowls. Their litter box. I knew within minutes that was a mistake because one of the cats used it. Even so, it was too late, That Dog was already in the house.

Somehow we managed to keep them all in the bedroom all Friday and Saturday. We got half the living room painted. Then, early Sunday when my husband went to the bathroom, all three cats tore out of the bedroom. Quietly, of course.

Among all of her other self-imposed duties, Sarge is our Hall Monitor. She’s perfectly capable of standing in front of a hundred-pound dog and daring him to come any further, which she did. When I got up, Sarge was standing in the doorway between the dining room and the family room, where Barb and Chris were sleeping. Dog wanted to come out and play. Sarge didn’t want him to. He had backed up, cowering, behind the sofa. Sarge wasn’t about to let him by. And he was letting her get away with it. A hundred pounds of dog, cowed by a nine-and-a-half-pound cat. Unbelievable.

I walked into the kitchen and found the other two cats eating That Dog’s food. Sarge joined them in their quest and I know exactly what their quest was because by now I know how cat psychology works. Since Dog wasn’t leaving, they were going to starve him to death, and Sarge wasn’t going to let him anywhere near his water either. Now get this. Normally you have to put the cat food up where the dog won’t get it, and normally you have to protect cats from strange dogs.

Not in this household. In this household the cats eat the dog’s food and the poor dog doesn’t dare look crosseyed at them no matter what they do. I fully expect them to construct a Tent City in the hallway so he can’t get out of the family room.

Update, Saturday Afternoon:

Two cats under my bed, Sarge on top of the refrigerator where she can Watch Everything, Dog asleep in the family room. That Dog ate all the cats’ food, score one for him, I didn’t see him do it either. To his credit, so far he has stayed out of the litter box, which contains several (to any dog) Delectable Doggie Tootsie Rolls. I’m off to clean the cat box right now. More later.

Update, Sunday Morning:

The cats are now institutionalized. They won’t leave my bedroom. They all got the message at the same time, apparently…except for Sarge.

Barb took That Dog outside to do his thing early on, and Sarge took up her post at the back door. When they were ready to come back in, That Dog took one look at who was guarding the door and hid behind Barb, shivering. Barb insisted they were coming in. Sarge stayed where she was. Barb and That Dog came in the house. Sarge said, “Whoa now, wait just a damn minute here!” and took a flying leap at That Dog’s head, probably intending to tear it off. BUT That Dog finally got all his nerve together, gave a mighty lunge and barked.

This time, Dog 1, Cat 0. Sarge ran back into the bedroom and stayed there the rest of the day with the other two cats. We actually got a lot done Sunday. Not only the painting but Chris, the most adorable and brilliant of wonderful human beings, built me, without me knowing he was doing it, a beautiful flat stone and river rock walkway out the back door to our fence, and in addition to that, a beautiful little garden with flowering bushes and mulch covering the dirt. An absolute oasis, a lovely spot to look at when things get to be too much in the house, which they often do. Bless them. They’ve saved my sanity.

Dog went home that afternoon. My Grandpuppy, I call him, and I miss him. Besides being totally sweet and completely loveable (he sat on my lap Saturday night during a huge thunderstorm while Sarge sat at the window and watched all the fireworks) he’s the only one I’ve ever seen who could actually make Sarge behave for more than fifteen minutes.

That was my weekend. How was yours?

Hots will be back next weekend, and Sarge says Hey!

Love, Beth (A poor substitute for Hotclue, I know, but as with everything else, I try.)

Family and Other Odd Creatures | 7 Comments  

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