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Our Storm Story

Our storm story doesn’t compare to those of the tornado victims in our area. But, puny as it may be, this is our story.

We knew thunderstorms were expected. I was actually looking forward to the stormy weather. Nothing is cozier than lying in bed listening to the rain on the roof. However, this storm was a real character! The lightning and thunder weren’t just playing. They were very serious. When you see lightning, then count till the thunder booms and the number of seconds in between is number of miles away to the storm. Right?

But this storm was present with us in force, present and accounted for, no doubt about it. Lightning and thunder were flashing and booming at the same time, over and over again. And then the rain! It was horrendous. Often when I say “Hear the rain?” Charles says “What rain? That’s the air conditioner.” But he heard it this time! We talked about how many inches we might be getting in the rain guage. We were glad our cats had such nice warm dry shelters and I pictured them raising their heads in what should have been the dark of 3:45 a.m. to wonder at the repeated sparking flashes of strong lightning. They’d be flicking their ears, too, at the claps of thunder.

I said something like “Glad our poor old dog Blake doesn’t have to endure this storm. Gone to his rewards. He’d be gone crazy before now.” Blake had a storm endurance disorder that made him go extraordinarily wild before we could even hear thunder. He’d huddle behind the toilet or squeeze behind the freezer trembling from his Irish setter nose to his sad fluffy red tail.

Charles crawled out of bed to go to the bathroom. I lay watching the amazing show.

All of a sudden there was a living, crackling presence right in our room. A huge chandelier-sized ball of lightning sparked and sizzled in a suspended state only six feet from me. At the same time a stroke of thunder boomed and crashed. It happened in a millisecond, I guess, but I will never forget the sight of that electrical ball beside my bed.

“Something very near has been hit,” I told Charles as he came out of the bathroom. Charles Douglas came in from his room. He, too, had seen an electrical ball. Charles told us both reasonably that what we had seen was just strong flashes of lightning, but we contend that this was quite different. That crackling ball of fire in my room is vivid in my mind.

I went to a front window to see if I could tell whether or not one of our pines had been hit. Charles D padded back to his room and came out reporting his television and play station were both dead, completely gone.

That was Sunday, January 23, the day of the deadly tornadoes in South Georgia. Though we did spend time in the basement due to tornado warning, we were not hit. We are so grateful, feel so blessed, we’d be ashamed to say very much about our tiny problems. But, though comparatively tiny, the storm’s hit wreaked havoc on our household.

All week repairmen have frequented our house. As one wire/component/fixture is repaired, another problem is discovered. One repairman who kept running into more electronic wires, devices, etc. “fried,” shook his head with a patient smile as he remarked, “Chasing down ghosts here.”

The inventory right now, I think, is: two televisions, one play station, one computer router, several smoke alarms, numerous wires, landline telephone wire, an entire security system (now restored and updated!) and more.

I asked one repairman for his thinking concerning the randomness of the lightning damage. He said the strike came in on the telephone wire (entrance right beside our bed) and “wandered” around the house striking here and there. “That’s the way it works,” he said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It goes where it wants to go all in a second’s time. Like a tornado,” he added,” touching down here, skipping that house, demolishing the next one.”

I described to one repairman my visit by the sizzling electrical ball. He said, “Oh, yes, I’ve seen one too. It is awesome!”

When I described the electrical ball to my brother Charlie he said, “Remember Mamma’s story about Uncle Hugh?”

Our mother’s brother Hugh was walking through a storm one day when he glanced over his shoulder and saw an electrical ball sparking down the hill toward him. There was no time to do anything about it. Miraculously, the ball shot past him. As it disappeared in the rain and thunder, Hugh felt something hot on his side. A dime had melted in his left pocket.

Today is so sunny and bright with spring azaleas and Japanese magnolias blooming gloriously. A large umbrella propped near the door on the porch is one of the few visible signs a storm came through.

But for thousands across the Southeast the signs of storm damage are horrific. My mind cannot even grasp the sorrow and pain of those who lost loved ones in tornadoes. The most heartbreaking stories are of those whose children’s bodies have not even been found.

Why are some hit and some not?

It is a helpless question.

But I know this. The Most High God who allows the storms and the unbelievable (such as our daughter’s dying in her sleep at age 42) is the only one who can comfort and give us hope.

 

 

 

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To Neuter a Rooster

The question was how do you neuter a rooster. Ronnie and Diane thought they were getting hens but they ended up with three roosters instead. Reminds me of the Dovers. A neighbor gave them five baby chicks, supposedly one rooster, four hens. Oops! Got it turned around. One hen and four roosters.

Identifying sexes of baby chicks and rabbits is difficult if one isn’t an expert in the field. Contrary to common thought, a mixed practice veterinarian, for instance, should not be expected to be an expert on identifying gender in those tiny critters. Some friends asked Charles, my veterinarian husband, to sex some bunnies years ago. He blithely complied, though as I remember, he did warn them he didn’t have a good track record in that department. Well, when it turned out that his male was having babies and his female was a lively buck, that family ribbed their vet mercilessly and still remind him of his mistake. Always with a great laugh, of course!

He is very good at laughing at his own goofs. His good humor helps him never to be irritated by the strange requests and questions that come his way when folks realize he’s a vet, and he always tries to help, sometimes by simply referring someone to an expert, whether dog trainer, bird rescuer, or equine bone specialist. He may not be “tuned in” to the tiny fluffs but he loves the people who, in his view, are his most important responsibility.

Wherever we are, whether attending a Chamber of Commerce dinner, fellowship time at church, a restaurant, flying to Hawaii, or waiting in a visitation line at a funeral, Charles graciously responds to the most earnestly posed questions ever asked. Subjects range from how long a cat will be in heat (my face used to grow hot as he launched into that answer with folks suddenly turning to listen, but I guess I’ve gotten used to it after fifty years!); to how to control a dog with storm phobia; to how to diminish the population of a pasture full of donkeys, or whether or not an 18-year-old cat could survive surgery.

So here’s this question by phone of how to neuter a rooster. Actually, the caller was his brother so he could goof around with him more than most.

“There’s all those feathers,” Charles said. “How do you ever figure out where everything is? Especially when there’s no doubt where his claws and wicked beak are.”

Ronnie must have declared that his rooster was very tame, an innocent pet–except for his recent disturbances with another rooster.

I heard Charles laugh in pure delight. “Sure he is! Just try tying him up and see what a sweet cuddly he is. And watch out for your eyes!”

After considering a few impossible alternatives for neutering a rooster, Charles offered his solution to the problem. “Instead of all that torture for the poor rooster, why don’t you just finish him off kindly and make chicken and dumplings?”

I can imagine Diane in the background saying, “No, no, no!”

As it was, they pulled up stakes and moved to Michigan. I didn’t ever hear what happened to the rooster.

But–speaking of roosters–there’s one rooster Charles and I will never forget and he was not a patient or the subject of any problem.

We had been vacationing several days on the beautiful garden isle, Hawaii’s Kauai, and it was time to fly back to Honolulu. We had enjoyed a helicopter ride viewing waterfalls crashing and snaking into super green valleys, we’d hiked on a lonely beach, and eaten delicious fresh fruit at roadside stands. And we’d been fascinated everywhere we went by many free range chickens along the roads, grazing on motel grounds, pecking around in every little park. The story was that once a huge storm hit Kauai and scattered chickens to the four winds. Since then it’s against the law to kill a fowl.

We’d located a church near the airport where we could worship our Lord before we flew that Sunday. The pastor that day spoke at length about the apostle Peter. In relating Peter’s denial of Jesus, he described the courtyard scene. Just as he spoke of the crowing of the rooster, a very lively rooster crowed outside an open window–right on cue! We grinned at each other, then looked around to see how others of this very diverse congregation reacted. No one showed the least sign of having heard that rooster, even the many children. Apparently, they were so used to hearing roosters, that single clear crow at just the right moment meant nothing to them. But it was a memorable sound effect for us!

As to the Dovers and their four roosters, I believe those feathered friends are going to live as long as they let each other. No chicken and dumplings there!

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Those roosters start their day about 4:00 a.m. We’ve had the privilege of visiting the Dovers on their North Georgia farm and there’s never any need for an alarm. When those fellows tune up, they crow on different notes, not at the same time like a barber shop quartet, but one after another like trumpets in a symphony orchestra, except perhaps more competitive than an orchestra would allow. At right is a picture I snapped of three of the lordly roosters admiring their sweet little hen!

And my veterinarian is still answering questions, very valid ones like what is the best remedy for pets pestered by fleas, and the funny ones like how to stop a dog from chasing squirrels or how often a rabbit needs a bath. Or…if you do neuter a rooster, will he stop crowing?

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Riding Shotgun–Some of Our Pets

Floofy was William’s first dog. Charles had stoutly insisted William should wait to have a dog until he was five years old and able to take care of it himself. He’d had his birthday several months ago. Finally, one magical day Charles took him to the animal hospital and introduced him to a fully grown smooth-haired brown, black and white beagle. When they brought the dog home and William said her name was Floofy I started to say, “Oh, no, she’s not a floofy. She has such short hair.” But Charles gave me a look that said leave the boy alone. Later he told me he’d already argued with William but “Floofy” was definitely the name he’d chosen.

So Floofy it was. She was a well-mannered dog, did not jump on us, barked when company came but stopped politely when everyone was settled, and ate happily everything we set before her. That is, until Charles said she was unhealthily fat from all the leftovers and we’d have to put her on a diet. “How would it look,” he posed, “if I’m trying as a good veterinarian to get my clients to feed their dogs healthy meals while my own dog is rolling in butter-fat?” That’s when Floofy started visiting down the street and would come home grinning around a crisp chicken leg or a wonderful meaty ham bone. William and I visited that neighbor and asked her not to feed Floofy since she was on a diet. The neighbor agreed but paused not one day in her feeding program. Floofy’s requests obviously spoke louder than our request because the fattening leftovers kept coming.

William tried to teach Floofy how to fetch but she was pretty lazy (that goes along with too much fat!) and the main game they enjoyed together was simply rolling over and over on the grass, dog and boy barking and giggling.

Floofy gave William a fantastic late Christmas present about 1975. On New Year’s morning we woke to the sound of puppies squealing–under our house! We’d been in our one-hundred-year-plus house only a couple of years and hadn’t underpinned it yet. Thank goodness we hadn’t put in air conditioning ducting yet either. The house is only inches above the ground so when Charles crawled in to retrieve the puppies, he had to maneuver in many places with his face sideways on the dirt. William shouted with glee as Charles brought the wiggling little blind puppies out, one at a time, eleven fat puppies!

I took a picture of William with that tumbling mass of puppies when they were about six weeks old. He was seven years old and hating to give any puppies away. But we had to and we did. Feeling we had saturated our field of folks wanting puppies, Charles then took Floofy to the office for an operation so she wouldn’t have any more. William seemed to understand his dad’s explanation and didn’t object, just went along to watch.

Much later, when Floofy died, William was eight or nine and Julie was part of our family. The two of them watched as Charles buried Floofy out near the pasture fence while I sobbed. William asked if a tree would grow up out of Floofy’s stomach. Charles said no, because he didn’t want a tree there so he’d be sure to pull it up if it started growing. I left the scene to shed my tears elsewhere.

After Floofy we had Lucky, an Australian cow dog, who tried to punish us all for not being in line, I guess. She was a terrible jumper, meaning she jumped terribly high and often. I could never get to church without having railroads up my stockings during Lucky’s days. Charles found a farmer who wanted her and none of us cried when she left.

Julie had acquired by then, through the generosity of Linda Wells, a cat named Misty,a beautiful Persian cross with fluffy gray fur. She had a sweet disposition which was very good to go along with a little girl’s whims at dressing her up and toting her everywhere. My only problem with Misty was that she was extremely good at catching anything, including our songbirds. I wanted to put a bell on her neck as we had always done in my family, to warn the birds to stay away. But Charles absolutely refused. That would be more cruel to the cat whose instinct it is to hunt than it would be for the birds to be snatched literally from the air. I still don’t agree with him. But Misty didn’t wear a bell. I can see her right now in my mind sitting on a well cover behind our house calmly bathing herself while a mockingbird bomb-dived her, pecking her back. An hour later the mockingbird would be a heap of feathers on the same well cover.

Misty got ornery as she became elderly. One day she slashed at Julie instead of playing with her. Or was that William? When Charles saw the blood on his child’s arm he grabbed Misty up and threw her bodily into a bed of lilies. That same evening I found Charles asleep over his newspaper with Misty curled in his lap looking at me with round eyes that said, “He’s mine, you know. Lay off.”

Misty went with Charles to the office one day for her annual shots and a check up. Her fur looked all ruffled, a sign she’d probably eaten a bad lizard or something. On his way home Charles stopped to leave some medicine at a client’s house, and Misty leaped out. We never could find her, though we looked diligently for weeks.

The only way not to endure heartache over your pets is not to have pets. But what a vacancy would be in our lives with no pets to make us smile–and laugh out loud–and cry.

 

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A Cat Story

            I’m including in my book called “Riding Shotgun” a chapter about our own pets. Everyone is interested in what kind of animals their veterinarian goes home to. Here’s one segment of that chapter I’d like to share with you.

            Fussy was our first pet to share, a cat Charles acquired during a working summer in Atlanta. After that summer I kept her at my home in Clarkesville until we got married that December. Then she moved into our tiny Athens apartment with us where she provided worlds of entertainment. It might have been a small apartment but she figured out how to run and leap and attack from under the bed and hide in the closet and generally to make of it a “deep, dark forest” or a New York borough, certainly a place of adventure. When Charles was buried in his books on histology, anatomy, poisonous plants and parasitology, Fussy kept me company purring in my lap, swatting at my knitting needles, and chasing my pencil when I dropped it.

            When we moved to our first house (a rented one) in Cairo in 1968, Fussy was there for me. Charles was gone for long, long hours and Fussy, along with the wonderful little person growing inside of me, kept me quite occupied. Even before William was born, neighbors would prophesy that Fussy was going to be a handful when the baby came. “You’ve spoiled her rotten,” they’d say. “She’ll smother that baby when your back is turned.”

            The house we lived in had inherited a dog, a collie named Laddie who had belonged to former renters. The Wards across the street fed him. Mary said she told the family she would feed Laddie. But Laddie didn’t move to her house. He stayed on our open carport. Whenever I let Fussy out, she’d investigate Laddie and they were good to each other. But I didn’t let her out much. She had free range in the house, perching in window sills to watch the birds, hiding under beds when she didn’t want to be found, lying on soft pillows and, often, in my diminishing lap, or even on top of my bulge.

            When William was born, Fussy was very curious. She’d sniff the baby, edge carefully around him. I watched her very closely. I loved my cat. But I loved my baby more and I wouldn’t let anything happen to him. One day when he was two or three months old and beginning to move a lot, I noticed Fussy was ever more interested. She sat by his infant seat when I set it on the floor watching his every movement. I realized one day that I could not afford to turn my back on the two of them for fear she would attack a little tender hand or rake one paw down a sweet little cheek.

            “Okay, Fussy, today you are going to stay outside until 5:00,” I told my gray striped cat the next morning. “It won’t be so bad. You need to learn to enjoy the outside as well as the inside.”

            She howled from one window to the next all around the house for hours. I steeled myself to wait one more hour before letting her in. It would be best for her and for me and for Baby William. I slid a pie into the oven and opened the door calling jubilantly, “Fussy! It’s time! Come here, come on in.” But there was no Fussy. When had I last heard her crying at the window? Charles and I both hunted for her that night, and the next day I called and called her all around the neighborhood. Then Dot Crozier, a neighbor, heard me calling her and stopped by looking stricken. “Brenda, your cat’s missing? I—I think I saw her out on Highway 84 yesterday—she’d been run over. In fact, I moved her off the highway. So she wouldn’t get—you know, mutilated. But I didn’t recognize her at the time. I didn’t realize it was your cat. I thought your cat was always indoors. Oh, I’m so sorry!”

            She was right. I went where Dot directed me and there was my cat, my poor stiff cat. I wrapped her in a towel and hauled her home where Charles tenderly buried her under a pine tree. I could not stop sobbing for a week. Why had I put her out so long? Why hadn’t I figured out a better way to handle the situation? Nothing Charles could say entirely took away the sting of guilt and sorrow. In a way, I’ve never gotten over losing dear Fussy, though there have been many more losses that were also very sad. Aside from mourning the demise of many of our own pets, I’ve mourned both on the phone and in person, with bereft pet owners. I can honestly and fervently tell them I identify with their grief.

              The best picture I have of Fussy is one I took when we were packing to go away for the weekend and she got in the suitcase and just sat there staring calmly and steadfastly at me with those brilliant yellow eyes of hers.

 

 

      

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