Friday, November 25, 2011


.....arrived one winter day in March of my 11th year. It was a Saturday and my Uncle 'F' and his wife had gone to the small city on an 'errand'. Rather an unusual occurrence in winter, especially on the sketchy backwoods roads of Maine in the 1950s. Around two in the afternoon I heard his old Studebaker straining and spinning its way up into Uncle 'Rs' barnyard. Going out to see why he'd come here rather than his farm across the road, I saw a tall (to me) willowy slip of a young lady climb from the back seat.
   Being of the tender prepubescent age of eleven, I was immediately fascinated by this slender, but well shaped young woman. Breaking my through hypnotic reverie, F's wife was introducing this vision of wonder to me, me! I managed to awake from my stupor in time to hear that her name was Elise Cote and she was F's wife's cousin from France. The reason for her coming wasn't revealed then and I actually learned the details later from my aunt E. In those times you were thought, and rightly so, to be rude to inquire after such personal information. In many ways I miss things being that way, but in many other ways I relish the openness that has forced 'family problems' into the open. If you read the first few posts of this blog you'll find my reason for feeling so strongly about this issue.
    As the winter morphed into a gorgeous spring, I learned a deal more about our quiet guest. She spoke English with a smooth and lilting French accent, made all the more sensuous to my young self by the mellow, soft tones of her voice. She was nineteen and would be twenty in mid-summer, she read every chance she got. Aunt 'E' placed her in the room at the top of the rear stairs beside the 'dry' bathroom with the lime toilet. She decorated her room strangely in my opinion, simply a collection of mismatched dolls, stuffed animals, crinkled photos of groups of children, and other odd mementos of things from her past.
   As summer burst forth she and my, quite smitten, young self started to venture for walks in late afternoon before supper and evening chores. Our steps seemed to always draw us to a spot beside where the small brook emptied into our farm pond. There was a large flat rock and we'd just lie there in mutual silence watching clouds or sit observing the fish in the clear pond water. I didn't dare ask many questions, like why she always wore a headscarf that covered her face starting just behind her beautiful blue eyes. The scarves invariably were worn in the same manner and she never was seen (by me) without one on. Her features were near perfection and her hair was very dark brown and slightly wavy. She helped around the house and taking care of the elderly folks in residence at the time during the day and evening. Then she'd retreat to her room where I'd have been dispatched several times carrying buckets of hot water. I wondered if she bathed herself with the scarf on. One of life's mysteries.
    Another mystery was why a doctor from Canada came to visit her once a month and always entrusted my aunt E with a package when he departed. As a former nurse she kept a locked medicine cabinet where the packages invariably were deposited. Elise also seemed to shy away from fireplaces, stoves, direct sunlight, etc. At our rock she'd always remark how nice it was that somebody planted a huge oak tree so it allowed a great view of the sky while shading us from the sun's rays. Some days she'd even wade into the pond in pants and blouse, but never allowing her head to get wet. Another thing that worried me was that she'd often awaken screaming at night, but only my aunt had the key to her room. Sometimes she'd go down to her sewing room and come back with little packets, sometimes I could hear only E's voice calming her back to sleep. I knew something wasn't quite right, but also knew enough to refrain from watching and prying.
   Elise stayed through the next winter and into the summer. That summer she was noticeably paler and distracted. Toward the end of the summer she started to go to our rock earlier and I'd find here there after my chores were done. One afternoon was so different that it turned my world upside down for months and still remains in my memory as though it were yesterday.
    Elise had gone off earlier than usual according to aunt E, and she noticed she'd seemed especially troubled. That was also the only time she'd ever told me to leave my chores for others and go to check on our young guest. I hurried down to the rock and was relieved to see Elise laying in her usual manner, but when I drew closer I noticed something was amiss. It was too quiet, no happy greeting. I climbed to her side and my world shattered. She was cold to the touch and her eyes were staring into the skies unseeing. I don't recall running back to the house, but I do remember not being able to tell my aunt what was wrong, just took her hand and half-dragged her to the rock and Elise. As she got closer, she bent over and scooped up a tin that I recognized as medicine for the horses, especially the oldest workhorse who was lame.
    In the next few days my aunt paid special attention to me as I did little but grieve for my friend. Finally, she took me into the parlor where Elise lay and pulled back the colorful scarf for me to see. After I settled back down, I could understand the scarves. Her left ear was gone, as was much of the hair on that side of her head. In their place were terrible scars from deep burns. Her upper arms and back were badly scarred as well. My aunt explained that the Dr that came each month was a burn specialist and the packets were morphine vials and syringes so E could administer the drug when needed. Elise also suffered from horrible nightmares, what today would be known as PTSD. 
    On graduating from school at sixteen, Elise had gone to work at an orphanage where she mostly cared for the younger children. One night the place was hit by lightning in the barn area attached at the back. By the time the fire was discovered it'd spread throughout the rear upper level where the young children and Elise slept. Elise had carried children from the burning rooms by twos and threes and led older ones. After many trips she was overcome by smoke and exhaustion and collapsed just inside the rear area. A fireman found her there and carried her out to safety. After several operations and recovering some of her lung function, they could do no more. Today they'd be able to do far more, but things weren't advanced as much in 1954.
     The nightmares were filled with the screams of the frightened children and pain was mainly from nerve endings that had become heat sensitive or scar tissue that pulled the tissue too much. Aunt E explained what I'd already figured out, the pain and memories had become too much for Elise to bear and she'd taken the animal pain medications to end her suffering at a place she loved. Uncles R and F and the local minister buried her between the oak and the rock where the sun shone through in bright speckled dances.
     Later a man from the big city came and created a smooth spot on the rock above her head and inscribed: 
                                     Elise Cote
                              Her pain is gone and 
                             the screams are stilled.
                              She joined those she
                                  could not save. 
   Not a sad memory for me, she gave me two magical summers of afternoons learning how to lay on a rock and quietly enjoy life's many treasures. I only wish it had been the 1990s or later so she could have found the relief she needed. At least a little of it. Until next time, take care and be well.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Fishing Tale

                                     A Short Tale of Man & Boat
  It's been awhile, but hoping it won't be so long between posts again. This is just a short story told to me by a friend when discussing the stuff tourists and visiting sportsmen do when here.
    About 3 years ago a friend who runs a fish camp beyond the roads here told me about a NYC client. seems the guy had 2 big problems, very impatient and demanding, carried an automatic 9mm as he was afraid of bear??? Anyway, the guy and his buddy went off fishing in a camp canoe at daybreak and still hadn't returned at dusk. Getting worried, Emile got up in his float plane to look for them, no luck. Rather than try to find them at night they waited until first light.
   Finally, about 10AM they spotted them way the Hell up a stream with loadsa 'must portage' spots. They were about 7 portages up away from the place the stream emptied into the lake paddling downstream. Emile stayed over them as they kept waving at him and radioed for the air-boat to come get them. The NYC guy was offered a radio but said they wouldn't need it as he was familiar with the woods & streams etc since he came here often as a boy.
    Emile said he noticed something strange, they were beside the canoe and it was under water about halfway. When his son got to them in the air-boat he found out the problem. Seems they were about 9 portages up and he slipped and the canoe hit his knee and really hurt him. That wasn't why they were late though. Seems he got so pissed that he took out the 9mm and emptied 2 clips into the bottom of the canoe. That resulted in a hole about a foot across opening up when they re-floated it & got in. Obviously it didn't work well, so they decided to wait until daylight to finish going back so they'd have time to make a camp for the night. 

  End of story, almost.....forgot to say that he was so upset at shooting the boat that he flung his pistol into the brush, then to add insult to injury, Emile informed him that it was a 1926 Old Town moosehide canoe and rough estimate for repairing it that he got over the radio was $850 not counting pick up and delivery. Emile says the guy cancelled his reservations for the next summer. Seems it was too costly to fish here. 
    Until next time, be well and stay safe.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

What The F.......

   Ahhhhhh. After too much time away, finally able to get blogging in earnest again, or probably for the first time. I've been trying for some time to get back to it, but the old grey cells have failed to find the writing rhythm needed. Tonight, the Blogging Muses took a bit of pity on me and at the same time reminded me of the signs often seen in non-English speaking countries. the fun ones to look for are the ones we called 'Minglish' or 'Booklish'. 
   Minglish is English mingled with the local lingo usually spelled phonetically. Booklish is when a non-English speaker looks up translated phrases or words to say the same thing as in their own language. Often you can get the drift of the sign, but generally it's still funny. It seems the practice has progressed through being used when writing assembly instructions and safety labels to the present incarnation, SPAM!!
   The following was posted to this blog today and is just too screwy to keep to myself. Normally I just go to the 'moderate' page and mark them as SPAM. I just wonder how long the writer spent on literally translating the thing, word by word. I almost called the number it gives just to find out how the phone would be answered, but stopped when I realized they might put my number in their call computer and dial it every day. Arrrrrgggghhhh! HELL NO!! At any rate, here it is, I hope you have a chuckle trying to figure it out.
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Gotta admit, the person was ambitious and also offered a way for me to start writing anew, although that wasn't their intention. Until next we meet, stay safe and take care.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Burning bridges, moving on

  Sometimes, during the course of our lives, occur events which force us to move on. A change of jobs, location, economic or cultural differences for various reasons, retirement, etc. My adult life while I was working required I move about pretty regularly, much of it overseas, and often meant having to involuntarily cut ties with folks I'd come to cherish as friends. Often this was due to shifts in political stances of our respective nations over which we had slight control. Most of the overseas time meant further travel for me while my family remained behind in the 'country of record' at the time.
   Even though we'd try to keep in touch, the travel time, required permits and visas, phone expense, and poor mail services still conspired to defeat us. Of course, this was before the Internet that we now take for granted unless our computers crash, was available & even telegrams were iffy. Many of the places I went were so-called third world nations with poor infrastructure in all respects. Even many of the more industrialized nations were pretty crude in regard to communications.
   There was HAM radio of course, but many countries took a dim view of personal ownership of hi-powered radio transmission equipment, thus rendering it useless at times. I was reminded abruptly of this twice this week when our Internet/Phone service provider first caused all our computers that were on at the time, which was ALL of them, to crash requiring technician assistance and deleting everything not backed up. Of course, this happened on the very morning of the day I'd already decided to devote to backing them all up, but before I'd had a chance to do so.
 The second time was today, when the same service(?) provider developed a problem with our land-line phone, although the PCs still work online? My attempts to contact the repair section of the company, basically the ONLY provider in this rural area, were thwarted when I tried to report by cell phone. All that accomplished was the ticking off of minutes on my cell account, which is a very low usage pay per month deal, while awaiting an answer to my call which the nice recorded lady kept telling me was VERY important to them. I then looked them up online which gave me a site, which led me on a long trail to the statement that said I'd have to call first to set up a user name and password. Hmmm? I tried a neighbor, but he was in the same boat. Finally,after locating someone with a phone I could use, I got through, only to be told they needed the business office open to access my line routing??? I should have known, since this company still hasn't got a working pay online function, even though they ARE the online service provider and have been over three years now. Verizon, the former provider, sold our lines because the 'customer per mile numbers were too low'.
   Anyway, back to old friends. I've been slowly trying to reconnect with those who now have Internet as well as those in places where the Internet is now allowed due to changes in government and, in some places, country names. I figure I've been successful in about a third of the attempts I've made over the past decade or so. Earlier this week I came across this old song, long a favorite, that prompted me to renew my efforts to fix 'singed' bridges. Hoping I'll live long enough to reconnect with most of my old mates. Some have even found me and said it was much more difficult than they realized it would be. A lot of that is my own doing in this age of far too much information sharing by various entities.
   Hope you like the music. Until next time, stay well, stay safe, and stay in touch with all those you can in life.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Adventures in Bunnies

Oryctotagus cuniculus
(domestic rabbit)
  Once upon a time, in a land very near where I now sit, there lived two young boys. The boys were close friends and shared many good times. One such time, or rather, series of good times, was the annual outing to the nearest Agricultural Fair. In our case, this was the State Agricultural Fair as our county was actually too rural to support such an undertaking as an Agricultural County Fair. It was at one of those yearly farm get-togethers when my friend Johnny, who has since passed on, saw something that had him all excited and eagerly yanking me to one of the animal display barns. 
  As we entered the hay-perfumed sweetness of barn dwellers, I finally managed to get him to stop long enough to enable me to take several deep breaths of that wonderful smell that many farm kids learn to savor like a rose gardener smells her roses. Then, at a somewhat more sedate pace, he pushed me ahead of him through the thick crowds that always appeared on Saturdays. After passing through the length of the building, he stopped pushing me and excitedly asked what I thought. 
   I immediately began to tell him in no uncertain terms what I thought of his current mental state, however, I never got but one sentence out before he yelled over my voice, "No, no, no! There, there, there! We could do that!!" As I looked to where his extended finger was shakily pointing I saw stacks of neat, roomy, cages. On closer inspection it was clear there were plump, furry, animals inside in pairs. "RABBITS!", he shouted excitedly. Then he went on to recite a rather longish spiel that he must have gotten from the little blond girl tending to the bunnies.
   Before long it became clear that he had in his mind to enlist me into a partnership as farmers of rabbits. To say I was reluctant would be a gross understatement. Still, he persisted, rambling on  for several minutes between deep gulps of air until, seemingly spent, he went toward the little girl. I mean little as smaller physically than our brawny 12 year old boyish frames. At least that's how we thought of ourselves as compared to the townies due mostly to healthy appetites supplemented by hours of farm work daily. She looked up at his approach and he went all quiet like & she got a pinkish glow. Not surprisingly, years later they wed and together raised two fine sons who now work in the airline industry as cargo pilots and Dot still lives in their North Carolina 'retirement cottage'.
   Before long, they came over to me and Johnny introduced her as Dot, from a town not too far from ours, but not easily accessible from our town without driving along a long dog-leg shaped route. Seemingly suddenly struck dumb, he nudged her gently and nodded, whereupon she started telling me all the ins and outs of her rabbit raising business and how her father marketed them in the city when he delivered hogs to the meat packing company there. Although I was hesitant, Johnny was completely taken by the idea, very likely as a result of 12-year-old male hormones reacting to Dot's smile.
   Telling him I'd think on it while trying to figure out a way to get his mind off the possibility of rabbity riches and good times ahead, I led back toward the rides on the midway. But he had plans, plans far too important to be put aside just for carnival rides. Seems he'd even discussed it with his dad, who told him if he could raise the money he'd give him the use of the old goat shed attached to his barn. Now I saw my part in the plan! He knew full well that I'd been saving up to purchase a transistor radio to listen to at night. We had no electricity on the farms and my Uncle R was usually occupied listening to the Red Sox games on the old battery powered unit we had. Transistor radios were fairly new then and had seemed to me a perfect way to have access to the stories played out each evening on the local station in the little city nearby. John's plan was to join forces with him providing place, cages, and food and I'd be the purchaser of the bunnies. I resisted until Sunday, when he finally convinced me to use some of my radio money to buy three females and a male from his newly found blonde friend.
   Move forward in time about eight months, our operation was doing really well. We had loads of critters and were breeding as fast as the market would absorb. I had my money back and all looked rosy. Until, that is, came word from Johnny's dad that he was stopping all meat raising operations and most of the dairy too as he'd been offered a job at the local saw mill. The money was more than farming, the work steady, and the pay as sawyer was good. Still, we persevered, thinking up various ways to get the critters to the packing house. The local meat shop took some, but we were breeding far more than he could handle. Then the cold hand of reality hit as we realized that without the various feeds from his dad we'd have to buy our own. This, plus the cost of having another farmer cart our goods to market, sounded the death knell for our profit margin. 
   Well, we kept on wishing and hoping for awhile, until we realized that rabbits were really, really, really good at multiplying. Even our efforts to segregate the males fell to ill fortune. One little fella had himself a grand old time until we caught on to the fact our gals were expecting again. Disaster! As the population rapidly started to fill the place we decided action was sorely needed. 
   Being boys and somewhat too clever for our own good, we hatched a plan. Not having buyers for our brood, we decided killing them was unnecessary and crude. Our brilliant(?) plan? In the lake abutting the farms to the south was a mid-sized island with nothing on it but grass, brush, and a smattering of trees. That became the destination for our boatloads of caged rabbits until all were safely deposited on the island. To our way of thinking, we were happy, bunnies were happy, all was right in the world again.
   Until, one late summer afternoon a game warden and a Fish & Wildlife Department truck with two men in it pulled into our yard. Seems they were stuck with a problem concerning the overpopulation of the island with rabbits and needed F's road for easier access. For some reason, this rabbit crowd was unacceptable to them. Well, my Uncles suggested a way to solve the problem. Put foxes and/or coyotes on the island to eat the bunny excess. And so the island, by now called 'Rabbit Island' by everyone around, got a fresh injection of fox and coyotes. Problem solved.
   Except, it seems that both predators aren't shy about swimming to the place once the island inhabitants somehow alerted them of the bountiful bunny supply. By spring, the State Wildlife folks were back, but no longer taking suggestions. Seems they no longer had a bunny problem, but a canine problem as apparently a rabid animal had gotten to the island before developing the fear of water. Now the worry was that the disease would spread ashore as eagles, owls, & hawks were now present in high numbers, having spotted rabbits, fox, and coyote snacks for the grabbing.
   Finally, somebody at the headquarters of the Warden Service made the blanket decision that all island critters must be either trapped or shot and destroyed to prevent a rabies epidemic. This apparently was a costly undertaking if the local gossip was to be believed. John and I kept a very low profile during all this and let the F & W guys think all the trouble was begun by a few rabbits that 'must have crossed over the ice' and infested the place. That explanation was fine with us. We were a bit sad how it ended, but even today few know why the place is referred to as 'Rabbit Island' since there aren't any rabbits there. Just a few birds. 
   Seems we young lads had made a lasting impression after all. Until next we meet, be well and take care.
So cute too!