Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Another Hobbs Memory

Stray dogs could be a problem out in the country.  Town folks would abandon their animals out there in the belief that they were giving their mutt a new home.  Surely that dog would wander up to a house and be adopted by a family.  Well they did wander up to the yard. These half-starved creatures had no survival skills and it was only natural for them to seek refuge from the coyotes around humans such as it was accustomed to.

We had a dog of our own though, a German Shepherd named Duchess. Duchess believed in protecting her household and was not amicable to first-time visitors whether animal or human.  At night we would hear the growl, low at first and then raising in pitch as the intruder moved closer. And finally when the desperate orphan would attempt to move in where food could be found a fight would ensue.

One dog was particularly troublesome.  We would hear the fights nightly and during the day we would see the hound circling warily from a distance, out of rock-throwing range.  He would skulk in the fields while the humans were about and move in at night for another round.  This went on for days and Dad must have mentioned it to Hobbs because the next thing you know, Hobbs offered to help out with the problem.

The image is burned into my conscious to this day. The weathered green ’57 Chevy pickup parked along the side of the road with the door open.  Hobbs taking position with one foot on the running board and one foot on the cab floor, resting the rifle on the cab.  Setting up left-handed.  I had never seen a left-handed shooter before.  Looking completely natural as if he had done this thousands of times before.  The dog meanwhile, sensing that he was an object of interest, had moved so far back that the shot looked impossible.

If you grew up on the farm the .22 rifle was likely to be the only firearm around.  We were not hunters and really had no reason to own large caliber guns; we dealt with pests and possibly hunted rabbits, not mountain lions and bears. If you have shooting experience you know that a .22 will work fine on birds that are perched 75 feet away.  But, while the round will carry better than a mile, accuracy is dependent on many factors when distance is increased.  The slug is light and affected by wind.  It travels along an arc and tumbles during flight.  Don’t be fooled though. I’m guessing that hunting rifle rounds will have a muzzle velocity greater than 2500 fps (feet per second) and a .22 probably goes one-third to one-fourth of that. Say 800 fps. At 100 yards the velocity will still be close to 700 fps.  That’s still traveling rather fast.  So while accuracy suffers due to other factors I mentioned, the bullet itself still has plenty of momentum.

At one time, using a .22 rifle, I could place a tight group in a target at 75 yards—with a scope.  I hunted rabbits without the scope but probably never shot one at a distance greater than 75 yards.  75 or 100 yards doesn’t seem like that great of a distance. But you are trying to shoot a quarter at that distance.  The naked eye can see a target but more than likely your gun sights will completely cover it. And you will notice every movement that the gun is making while you aim.  Even your breathing will cause the barrel to move.  And you realize that if you squeeze the trigger when the sight is dancing even slightly that you could miss the entire target, never mind the bull’s-eye.  So you keep both eyes open, breathe evenly, hold and slowly release your breath, squeeze the trigger.

The point I wanted to make here is that Hobbs was using a well-worn rifle with .22 short rounds.  The dog was about halfway across a field where the rows were ¼ mile long.  Allowing for the natural exaggerations caused by time’s affect on memory I would still not hesitate to put the distance at 150 yards.  I remember the crack of the rifle, a puff of dust just in front of the dog and howling.  That dog howled and ran and never stopped as long as it was visible.  It reached the end of the field, lit across another field, finally angled towards a road and never slowed.  I figure that dog decided he’d take his chances with the coyotes… he never showed up around the yard again.

I never asked so I don’t know if Hobbs hit where he was aiming.  But gathering from the casual way that he stepped down and put his rifle up I’m guessing that his shot went exactly where he wanted it to.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

On Meeting An Angel At Kroger's...

I met an angel the other day and now I don’t know now whether I’m supposed to recount this experience. When elements of the supernatural are involved you have to decide whether they are a gift or a warning. Of course, you must first decide if it was just a weird.

I exit my truck in the grocery parking lot and I see this wisp of a lady snatch a cart and march toward the entry. She’s looking around and does a little zigzag as she spots me. She almost seems to be trying to determine if she recognizes me but the moment passes and she resumes her trek. As we near the doors though she pauses and seems to be considering something. I hesitate, giving her room to regroup but she has made her decision. Evidently my character has been judged strong enough to be entrusted with something vital.

This gray-haired waif with her scarf and her granny specs plants herself in front of me, now less than 2 feet away and murmurs “Mmmm has a gun… over at Tapioca’s”. Now my hearing has been damaged by years of industry and rock music. I say “He does? Where?”, indicating that I didn’t hear plainly. She ignores this and goes on, “Yeah… and you know what? They don’t even care”.

I say “Oh yeah?” but this is a matter of fact so she nods and turns back to her other journey. Once inside the double-doors I take my time getting a cart. As her confidant I am also her co-conspirator and I’m trying to avoid a lengthy discourse. I walk into the store, a man on a mission. But she has set up shop at the service counter and barely glances as I pass so I go to work on my list. Several times as I shop she appears in the corner of my vision but I avoid eye contact. At one point she appears in front of me, little more than her purse and a deli takeout plate in her cart. But evidently my involvement is over and she soon disappears from view.

Which brings me to my point: why did this meeting become the defining moment of my day? What made me think of her later, bringing the apparition back to life? What if she were an angel; why would an angel contact me? A message? A reminder? “You need to listen more closely”. “You need to interact with those around you”. And why would an angel look you directly in the eyes and deliver an encrypted message?  That should be rather obvious… to make you think about it later of course.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Living In The Past Again

Well Jay, I finally figured out the name of the song we used to sing in the back of the pickup truck. “Wild Thing” by The Troggs. There was another one also: “Lil Red Riding Hood” by Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs. It took several weeks but then I wasn’t concentrating on remembering the entire time. It’s best sometimes to allow these memories to arrive on their own without forcing the issue.

The nice thing about remembering is that it gives a date to the event. So many years from my past don’t have numbers in them. I remember events, I remember songs that were playing in the background when events happened. I’m terrible with dates though. So anytime a date can be verified is a personal triumph.

The year would have been 1966. We were 11 years old. The farm truck that carried us into town for baseball games was probably a ’57 Chevy Apache. Or was it a Ford? I perfectly aware of the differences, thank you. The problem is I was surrounded by farm trucks in those days—and rode in the back of most of them either on asphalt or dusty dirt back roads. The reason I put that year on the truck is the fact that only the bosses and owners drove new trucks. The farm hands that I grew up around drove older vehicles.

My Dad drove his ’48 Chevy fat fender until the early 70’s when he finally bought a newer used truck. Hauled cotton-trailers to the gin for all those years and never put a dent on it. 6-cylinder 216 engine. Probably put well over 300,000 miles on it. Cattle whip resting on the back of the seat. A tool box ever-present in the bed. There was probably never a time when you wouldn’t be able to find some baling wire in the back; no farm hand was ever without baling wire, one of the handiest repair tools ever.

One of the hands my dad worked with was “Ol’ Henry”. He drove a Studebaker pickup. Seventy years old and still working in the fields. He never minded being pestered by kids. He would brace on his omnipresent shovel and spit brown tobacco juice between sentences, raising little clouds of dust every time he spat.

Hobbs (his first name) was another hand that worked on the same farm with us for many years. Now Hobbs was one of the most interesting (and loved) characters of our out-of-the-way existence. A wiry man, he didn’t really dress like the typical farmhand, wearing cowboy boots instead of round toe boots. I only saw him a few times without his cowboy hat on. He spoke Spanish just as well as English and we always wanted him to speak more of it. Dad, being raised with the guttural German sounds, always admired the lilting smoothness of Spanish. The topper was, he always addressed us kids as “Mr. Lyndon” and “Miss Teresa” and such. No one else in my memory ever did that; we loved to see him show up on the yard knowing what his greeting was going to be.

Hobbs was also a colorful man. He smoked. He drank. He had a common-law wife. All of the things that were preached on weekly at our church. You wouldn’t know it though except for the rare incidents. The only time he ever missed any work was when he was waiting in jail for my dad to bail him out. And there were hints of an actual wife somewhere and a stormy marriage that may have been the reason for his travel to our neck of the woods. But all we ever saw was the gentleman who said “How’s it going today, Mr. Lyndon?”

God rest you Mr. Hobbs.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Collecting Dust

My collecting has always been somewhat obsessive. No doubt some of this compulsion is inherited from those before me who experienced at least a part of the Great Depression. Farmers had to scrounge for parts to repair tractors and implements so if something broke you kept it for parts. Even broken steel would be saved--it could be cut and formed and welded to another broken piece of steel. My interests always took a more domestic turn. I liked going through the photos, the old marble stash, the matchbooks, National Geographic magazines.

Just collecting was not enough though. My collections needed to be complete, at least in my mind. In grade school I kept track of the Tom Swift books I had and which ones I needed; later it was Louis L'Amour of which I garnered some 80-odd paperbacks. I had my library catalogued and brought my list when I visited the used-book stores (new was not a prerequisite). And books were grouped and ordered when the made their way to shelves. My dad's National Geographic collection ranged from around 1953 to early 70's; many times I re-ordered the issues by date. My personal tomes were ordered first by genre and then by author when there were enough volumes.

Some of my filing methods did not seem so orderly at first glance. Magazines and papers were stored away in boxes in closets.  My mother marveled that I always knew in which box and in which general area that I needed to go to find something. It was not such a feat in actuality--I learned from watching Dad pack things for trips or for storage. He said he learned his techniques when he drove truck and had to load his own freight. He was methodical and ordered. When finished there was a logical reason for each placement. I never attained his neatness skills but I inherited the desire for it.

Another thing about my collecting: a collection becomes worthless when a piece of it goes missing or is damaged for some reason. It's tainted. Hunting replacements is just too overwhelming. I had a set of Wilson irons in college. When a dorm mate borrowed them and went golfing he lost my 9-iron and replaced it with an off-brand that didn't match. I was never able to golf with that set again without stewing over that mismatched club. And I never used that club either--it was either an 8-iron or pitching wedge from that point on. A large Tupperware of matchbooks was taken by thieves when they stripped my storage locker clean. I couldn't bear to start another collection since there were rare, and what I felt beautiful, containers that could never be replaced. No matter how many matchbooks I could have acquired afterwards there would always be this nag that part of it was missing.

Some collections were never started because I could see a futility in the results. Stamps and coins: I knew collectors from both fields. One uncle would go through all of our pennies when he'd visit, looking for that elusive 1943 "D" or whatever it was. (Looking it up just now I see that a 1943 copper penny sold for over $40,000 back as far as 1958 and that there are about 40 of them still in circulation. Total. How futile and time-consuming is that?). Stamps posed another problem--there were just too many of them. I saw someone drag out about 5 large binder-type scrapbooks. I knew when I gave her an exotic stamp I had received that it was a stamp I would never be able to obtain again. Hence there was not going to be a stamp collection.

Most of my old collections have been corrupted or abandoned at this juncture. Tools, books, electronics. I came closest to losing everything when I was homeless (yes, another story I will have to tell the kids about someday, someway). Papers and magazines that I stored with friends managed to survive. Actually quite a few of them. I think sometimes it would have been better if they had all burned or been otherwise lost. A clean slate. I would never desire to collect anything again. Ever.

Which reminds me of where I was originally planning to go when I started this ramble. The computer. This is where my collections are these days. And man, what an overwhelming mess. I've got emails, graphics, notes, manuals, programs... Nearly everything from my computerized history except for the contents of a catastrophic 10MB disk failure. Music? Yes, I've got music. One of the finest rewards of my computer experience has been the digitized ability to replace most of an album collection that was nearly obliterated by ants while in storage. Did you know that there are ants that will burrow into tightly packed albums, eat the cardboard and then defecate on the vinyl? Neither did I. I'm not sure if this reasoning is scientific. For all I know the baked-on layers of adobe were a result of regurgitation. But I saw the ants and I saw what they did to several hundred albums. And the booklet that came with my John Mayall "Back To The Roots"? Well that was a sin that all ants should pay penance for.

What will I do when this computerized collection is ruined? Will I ever be able to sit in front of a monitor again? Will I be able to listen to a song without the reminder that it used to reside in my library? I think I will probably run, not walk, to the hills... the mountains that I love. And I will bring my collection of fishing poles.