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Archive for November, 2008

As we approach the Thanksgiving Holiday, it is appropriate to give thanks for our blessings and remember others at this special time of the year.

I am reaching back to a recent post of mine, published on Sept. 16, 2008, that I want to share with you again, about a special Thanksgiving experience of many years ago.

Tomorrow evening, I will head for north central Mississippi, to the delta area, to meet 6 friends driving all night from Wisconsin, and will rendezvous with them Thanksgiving afternoon in Grenada, Mississippi. We will spend two days distributing a large trailer full of donated clothing, bedding, hand-made quilts, 150 gallons of paint, and several used, re-conditioned appliances, to several of our charitable coordinators in LeFlore, Carroll and Holmes Counties. This personal Thanksgiving experience is another year’s followup to some 25 previous Thanksgiving sharing experiences, like that portrayed in the following post.

My hope and prayer is that, wherever you are, whoever you are with, this Thanksgiving Holiday Season, that it will be one of sharing and caring, a special experience for all.

Safe travels to you all.

LISTEN, AND I WILL LEAD YOU…

By Coast Rat

More than a dozen years ago, early in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, a small band of travelers, eight in number, were making their way down across the southern United States, from Wisconsin to Mississippi, on a annual mission of mercy.

The group traveled in two 24’ rented Ryder box trucks and a borrowed passenger van, with the trucks loaded to the gills with over a thousand boxes of donated clothes, bedding, and many other items, destined for disadvantaged families in the poverty-ridden delta area of north central Mississippi, home to some of the poorest counties in the United States.

This had been an annual pilgrimage for several of the travelers, who had made this Thanksgiving trip many times in the past, leaving their homes in southern Wisconsin on Wednesday evening, driving all night on a southward journey though Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee, to arrive in northern Mississippi Thanksgiving morning, where they would begin delivering their precious cargo to more than a dozen locations in the Magnolia State.

On their long journey south, the group would stop only for fuel, or to use the restroom, normally arriving in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early morning, for breakfast and fuel, before proceeding on their journey.

On this particular trip, though, something strange, something very different, happened.

On that cold, November, early Thanksgiving morning, as the group was traveling through southern Missouri, the van driver radioed to the lead truck of our small convoy, that he would need gas soon for his vehicle.

I happened to be driving the lead Ryder truck in the little convoy, and replied to the van driver that I would take the next exit in the interstate that had all night gas stations, so he could fuel the van. The two trucks, equipped with large saddle tanks, would not need to be fueled until we reached West Memphis, a couple of hours ahead.

Shortly thereafter, we approached a small town just off the highway, and I turned onto the off ramp to stop at a station. The time was approximately 5:00am or so.

As I came to a stop at the end of the ramp, tired and anxious to continue on to our breakfast stop, a couple of hours down the road, I saw that there were two gas stations open directly across from stop sign where our three vehicles sat.

As I pulled the lead truck away from the stop sign, for some reason, I drove past the first open station.

And then, remarkably, I drove past the second open station.

Why?

I continued driving on down the access road that swung around to the right, and preceded on for about a quarter of a mile, where I turned into a small, Mini-Mart, with two gasoline pumps out front.

As I led the other Ryder truck around the back of the station, I radioed the van driver to go ahead and fuel up at the pumps in front.

After arriving around the other side of the station, I parked the truck, and myself and the second truck driver, one of my favorite people in the world, Chuck, walked inside the station and proceeded pour a cup of coffee, and then walked up to the counter in front, to pay for it and the gas that the van had filled up with.

As Chuck and I stood there talking, the woman clerk took my money. As she was giving me back the change and receipt for the gas, she asked us if we would consider putting some of the change in a coffee can setting on counter there, that said: “Fire Fund.”

She went on to explain that one of the mini-mart employees had had a fire the day before that, and although she and her two children had escaped without injury, her mobile home and everything in it, had burned up.

On the coffee can, were listed clothing sizes for the young, single mother and her two children.

When she asked that, I looked at Chuck and he looked at me; I put some of my change in the coffee can, and then kind of chuckled and said: “I think we may be able to help a bit more than that, too.”

I told the clerk that we were from out-of-state, and traveling to Mississippi for a few days, and that we would be coming back through in 2-3 days on our way back home, and that perhaps we could stop and help the fire victims a bit more.

We then mounted up, and continued on our journey south, had breakfast about two hours later, at Shoney’s in West Memphis, as we had for so many years previously, with our long-time friend, Gretchen waiting on us, and then drove through Memphis and down into Mississippi to deliver our cargo to many of our charitable coordinators in several counties in the delta.

Two days later, in the darkness of Saturday evening, on our back way up I-55, in southern Missouri, we took the off ramp back towards the same little Mini-Mart we had stopped at on the trip down, on early Thanksgiving morning.

Driving the lead truck again, I led our little convoy around to the back of the mini-mart building, where we parked the two trucks, and I walked around the building to talk with the clerk on duty.

As I walked into the store, I saw that the clerk, a younger female, had a rather worried expression on her face as I approached.

As I got to the counter, I saw that she hand her hand on the telephone and had actually picked it up (probably on the verge of calling 911), as she waited for me to say something. Who could blame her, having seen three vehicles drive to the rear of her store and then not come back out, and now there was a man with a beard standing in front of her at 9:00pm at night.

I proceeded to explain to the nervous clerk that I was part of a small group of travelers from out-of-state, and that we had stopped early on Thanksgiving morning, purchased gas for our van, and had learned then about the tragic mobile home fire that her fellow employee had suffered, where she lost everything.

As I talked more, trying to put her at ease that I was not there to hold her up, but was there to help, she finally put down the phone and her expression sort of relaxed a little.

I explained that our group was at the back of the store, waiting for her to open the door so that we could leave some things for the woman employee and her two children.

Finally, she accepted my explanation of what our mission was, and we walked to the back of the store, through the storeroom, where she unlocked and opened the back door.

As she opened the back door, her mouth dropped open, as there were two large Ryder trucks backed up there, with the back doors open, and eight people sitting on the backs of the two trucks, talking, waiting for the door to be opened.

The clerk said to me: “Oh, my God, you weren’t kidding!”

One of the people waiting there was my oldest son, Lucas, who was a junior in high school then, but who now is married, has two sons and lives in North Carolina. Another there was his best friend from his high school, Kristina, one year older than Luke, who had made the trip so she and Lucas could put on a special art fair for a number of kids in one little neighborhood we stopped at two days earlier.

I then asked the clerk if it was all right to stack the items we had in the store room, until the employee could get them. She said that would be fine.

As we started to unload the items from the trucks, the clerk just kept shaking her head in disbelief, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is happening!”

As she continued to watch us unload, she saw the following, mostly used, but very nice things, go from the trucks into the storeroom for the fire family: 3 beds and mattresses, a kitchen table and 4 chairs, refrigerator, electric stove, small TV, small microwave, small portable heater, 2 couches, 3 boxes of clothes for each of the children and the mother (we got the sizes from the coffee can earlier), a box of dishes and silverware, a box of kitchen glasses and cups, 2 boxes of towels, 2 boxes of hand-made quilts and blankets, a box of sheets and pillowcases, 3 pillows, a washer & a dryer, a box of wrapped Christmas presents for each of the children, and a couple of presents for the mother.

During the previous two days of unloading our trucks in Mississippi at our coordinators, I had made a mental list of items to save and keep on the truck, for this last, very special stop on our Thanksgiving trip.

As we finished unloading the trucks, the storeroom of the mini-mart was virtually full of things for the family who lost everything just 4 days before, in the fire.

As our volunteers pulled down the back doors of the trucks and loaded into the three vehicles to continue on our journey, I turned to the disbelieving clerk, and asked her to tell her fellow employee that we hope that these things will help her and her children to recover from their tragedy.

And then I turned, got into my truck, and we continued on up the highway.

I had not even told her or the other clerk who we were, where we were from, my name or what our true purpose was in traveling through during that weekend.

We in this small convoy all left with a special feeling in our hearts that night, warm and loving, that I think all of us has yet to this day.

We had left the north to help families in Mississippi over the Thanksgiving weekend, as many of us had for years. And during that trip, because the lead truck driver, for some reason, hadn’t stopped at the first, or at the second available gas station to fuel the van, but had driven on instead to yet a third station, we ended up being in position to reach out to a special family in timely need, in southern Missouri.

About a year and a half later, during a spring trip my wife and I were making to Mississippi to visit some of our friends there, I swung by the little Mini-Mart, had a cup of coffee, and as I was paying for it, asked the clerk if she knew what ever happened to the mini-mart employee who experienced the mobile home fire, just before Thanksgiving almost a year and a half earlier.

The clerk replied that, the women who had the fire, didn’t work at the mini-mart any more, but she and her two children were doing well. She said that the woman’s spirit was just crushed when the fire happened and she lost everything.

But then, the clerk said, an amazing thing happened a few days after the fire. She said that a group of strangers traveling through then during the night, had stopped there and left a large stack of things, clothes, bedding, appliances, beds and other household things, for the women and her two children, who were living with her parents after the fire. Nobody knew who they were or where they were from.

She said that the woman cried and cried after finding out about the strangers generosity to her a few nights after the fire. The clerk added that all the store employees were amazed at what happened.

The clerk said that after the strangers had stopped, area people found out about happened after the strangers left all those things in the middle of the night, and the town then rallied around the family with money donations, and raised enough money to buy them another mobile home.

She said that in the newspaper article the little local paper did about the whole thing and the traveling strangers slipping in and out in the middle of the night to help out, the paper had called the unknown strangers,

“The Angels of the Night.”

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Preface:

I have been a volunteer in our EMS Service for the past 18 or so years, the first five as an ambulance driver (I was unable to take the EMT night classes, because of my employment scheduling), and the past 13 as an Emergency Medical Technician-Basic (EMT-B). Several EMTs in our unit, have been volunteer EMTs for more than 30 years, a very dedicated group.

During the past two years while I have been engaged on my personal mission of hurricane Katrina relief, down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I have been on a Leave of Absence from my volunteer EMS Unit.

The crew of 3 other EMTs that I have had the privilege of responding to emergency calls with for many years, are outstanding emergency medical professionals, and I miss “running” with them during my absence.

Being an Emergency Responder, whether as a Policeman, Fire Fighter or an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), is very stressful. There are lots of “tough” calls. And, like most emergency responders, I have had my fair share of those tough calls over the years.

Following is a true story of one incredibly stressful and sad incident that I experienced as an EMT, with my ambulance crew, many years ago, one that I have never forgotten, and most likely, never will. This post is dedicated to the memory of that sweet, little girl, and to all of those thousands of fellow Emergency Medical Technicians, Firemen and Police out there on the front lines in our country, making a daily difference to so many in need.

*******************************************

It was election night, a number of years ago, and lines of people were standing, waiting to vote that evening, at the local polls.

I had gone and voted right away in the morning, when the polls first opened, before any lines.

That early evening, I was at home, in our little town, fixing something to eat for supper.

It was also the night that my regular volunteer ambulance crew of EMTs was scheduled to be “on call” from 6:00pm until 6:00am the next morning, to respond to medical emergencies in our EMS District. We four EMTs on this crew had been together for a number of years on the same crew, and had experienced a lot of calls together.

As I was standing at our counter island finishing my supper dish, a few minutes after six, it happened.

My EMT pager went off: “Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep!”

Instantly, on alert, I listened as the County EMS Dispatcher started announcing our EMT Crew’s page:

“Attention Rescue 100: In your village, at the corner of West Main and Green Streets, for a nine-year old female reportedly hit by a pickup truck. Time out 1806. Take this on E-EDWARD [EMS radio frequency].”

As I listened to the page, my body tightened up, and the words, “Oh, no!” escaped from my mouth, as I instantly turned towards the door, grabbed my car keys and bolted out through the garage to my car, listening to the rest of the page on the way.

I threw open the car door, jumped inside, swung it shut, belted up, turned the key, stepped on the gas to move forward out of my driveway and onto the street, and started my way towards the EMS Building, which was located about 10 blocks southeast of my home.

As I started out on that emergency journey to the EMS building, I reminded myself to remain calm, not to speed, and be extra cautious, to try to beat down the adrenalin surging through my body in those moments. When a medical emergency page comes across which involves a child or infant, it seems that there is a heightened level of that adrenalin. And that evening, it was there.

It seemed like all four of us EMTs on the Primary Crew arrived at the Ambulance Building at about the same time, quickly parked, ran for the big door, opened it and got in the main ambulance, flipped the lights on, radioed EMS Dispatch that we were en route, and moved out through the door, turned on the siren, and headed towards the highway just in front of the building, which would take us to downtown, in about 3-4 minutes, where the emergency was located.

While we were en route, about halfway there, the EMS Dispatcher radioed more information about the call, announcing that there were two EMTs already on location, and that apparently, the girl had been, in fact, not hit, but had been run over by the pickup truck.

When I heard that information from the dispatcher, a feeling of dread, of fear, overcame me.

When we heard that, we immediately radioed back to Dispatch to start the nearest available Paramedic Unit on the way to our location (they were only 8 miles away) to help us out, and to put the nearest Medical Flight helicopter on immediate standby, if they were available. The Medical helicopter Unit was based at one of the nearby hospitals, about 15 miles away, by air.

And just like that, we arrived on location at the accident scene.

Scores of people were lining the streets, many who were actually in line waiting to vote, and others who were around the accident, and saw it happen. The two EMTs already on the scene, had also been waiting in line to vote when the accident happened outside the Village Hall and approximately 40-50 feet up the street, at the first intersection to the west.

Our driver radioed that we had arrived on location, and we all jumped out of the ambulance and hurried over to where the young girl lay in the street. We immediately moved the crowd back away from the young girl, and quickly obtained details on what had occurred, and did a detailed quick trauma exam on the patient. One of fellow EMTs already there, advised that both the front and rear pickup truck wheels had run over the girl’s upper body.

Upon hearing that news, the feeling of dread and fear I had within me, intensified immensely.

We immediately radioed EMS Dispatch to send the Medical helicopter as quickly as possible, to our building, where it would land in the field next door, and we would transport the patient there.

These actions literally happened in only moments of time, as we quickly formulated our next moves. One of the EMTs had gotten the cot out of the rig and moved it next to where we were assessing our patient.

At that point, we decided to carefully pick up the patient, secure her on the cot, load the cot into the ambulance immediately, and head for our ambulance building, where the Paramedic Unit we had requested would be arriving in a few minutes, and the Medical Helicopter a short while after that.

As we carefully lifted the young girl in unison onto the cot, holding her small body in our hands and arms, I was crying inside, as I suspect my crew mates were also doing.

As we left the scene, en route to our EMS Building, we did our best to obtain her vital signs, and relay that information to the incoming Paramedic Unit.

A few minutes after arriving at our EMS Building, the Paramedic Unit Arrived, and took over primary care of the patient.

Shortly thereafter, we were assisting them in doing CPR.

A few minutes later, the Medical helicopter landed, and the flight doctor and flight nurse came running over to our ambulance, and they then took over primary care.

Several minutes later, the Medical helicopter flight doctor advised that CPR should stop. The truck had done just too much damage.

Our EMT crew was all standing outside the ambulance next to the doors when the Medical helicopter flight doctor advised to stop CPR.

As I looked around, I saw that all of us Crew members were crying, the two Paramedics were crying, and the Medical helicopter flight crew was also crying.

Those moments were some of the most helpless of my life.

One of our female crew members walked away from the ambulance to a spot about 75 feet away, sat down on the curb, holding her head in her hands, sobbing. I walked over to her, sat down beside her and was just there with her. She said, “My kids are her age. It could have just as easily been one of my kids.”

In a sad twist of irony, one of the EMTs who was in line to vote when the accident happened, told us shortly thereafter, that the girl’s father had told him that when he and his daughter started to walk across the street that night, his daughter grabbed his hand in hers, and said to her dad,

“Hold on to my hand, Daddy, I don’t want to get run over.”

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The Series of ‘close encounters.’

You’ve seen the Plane. And the Train.

Here is the Automobile (one of them).

It was Christmas Day, about 1970, I believe.

Blond Girl and I had been married for about two and a half years, and she had just graduated from college, with a B.A. in Math and Spanish.

I had recently returned from spending a month in north central Wyoming, where I worked as a deer hunting guide on a large cattle ranch south of Tensleep and the Big Horn Mountains. At the end of the month, I traveled farther west, over to Jackson Hole, where I joined my Uncle Al, and two friends, Stub and Wild Bill, to hunt elk there for a week in the Gros Ventre Mountains, just east of Jackson.

We had a memorable week of hunting on horseback from a spike camp high in the timber near the snowline of Sleeping Indian Mountain, harvesting four large elk, to take back to Wisconsin. What an incredibly beautiful place that was!

Prior to that, I had been working as a Supervisor in a local manufacturing plant for the previous three years, which closed in-mid September that fall, due to hard economic times, and myself and about 150 others lost our jobs.

After returning from Wyoming, during November and December, I was working temporarily for my parents in their supper club, before returning to my college studies in January, at the same university Blond Girl had just graduated from in mid-December.

We were living in a small Wisconsin town where I went to High School, renting a two bedroom, upstairs apartment from an elderly, retired couple, named Ned and Minerva. Ned had a beautiful old Hudson automobile, in mint condition, which he keep in a garage, only driving it on special occasions, or every 2-3 weeks, whichever came first.

We had celebrated Christmas Eve with my parents, and now were driving early the next evening over to have ‘Christmas Night’ at the home of Blond Girl’s parents, who lived about 20 miles west of our town.

As we motored west that evening, we were driving our fairly new, dark green Ford Maverick Sedan, and had as a passenger that evening, our young Siamese cat. In the trunk, were presents for her parents, and her sister and her husband.

As we traveled along the top of the ridge on US Highway 14 and turned onto to County Road U, the night air was cold, right near the freezing mark, and very damp.

Although I didn’t sense any particular road hazard as we began our descent down off the ridge on U, on the curvy, twisty road into the valley, I was taking it pretty easy, just the same, as I drove slowly into the first curve of the steep hill.

Blond Girl was dressed up beautifully, wearing her white wool winter coat to keep warm.

As I touched the brake pedal lightly, to decrease our speed even farther as we started into the first curve, I was suddenly gripped by a strong chill, as the soft touch on the brake pedal sent our car out-of-control, into a slide.

Instantly, I realized that the black top road surface had turned to GLARE ICE, and we were caught helplessly in a straight slide taking us to the far edge of the curve, beyond which, a steep, barren hillside, approximately 200 feet down to the bottom, waited for us.

The only thing between our sliding car and that steep, deep embankment, were two small trees that were growing out of a common base, right at the edge of the road, each little tree about 6”-8” across.

When our sliding car arrived at the edge of the road, as fortune would have it, our car struck both of the small trees, and stopped.

Those two little trees held, did not pull loose.

How come?

Was it the fickle finger of fate?

Divine Providence?

Destiny?

Mother Nature?

Guardian Angel(s)?

Luck?

A combination of some of the above?

I don’t know.

What I do know, is that those two, sturdy little trees, and the exact way we struck them, saved our lives

Had those two little trees not held their position, our sliding car would have gone off the road and over the edge of the steep embankment and rolled over and over countless times on down the slope, before coming to a crumpled rest at the bottom of the ravine. At the very least, we would have probably been seriously injured, or killed.

And, due to the steep slope of the embankment, and the dark hour we were traveling along the road, probably our wrecked car would not have been seen by passers-by coming along after us, until at least the next morning, if then.

Blond Girl and I did have injuries, but we survived.

She suffered a long laceration to the top of her head, which led to blood dripping forward all over her face and down onto her white wool coat. I suffered only a bump on the head.

Yes, we were both wearing our seat belts.

Our cat, a bit scared by the ordeal, ended up in the space by the back window, uninjured.

There were no cell phones back then, so I had to gingerly make my way back up the road to find someone to call the Sheriff’s Office to send help, a sand/salt truck and a wrecker. The sand truck, when it finally arrived at the hill, had to back all the way up the hill, spreading salt and sand to melt the ice, before we were able to leave the hill and be taken to the hospital.

Blond Girl and I ended up going to the Hospital back in the town where we lived, so her head could be stitched up, and a couple of hours later, we did finally arrive at her parents home for Christmas,  safe and still a bit shook up, where we ended up spending the night.

The car wasn’t totaled, but it did receive quite a bit of damage, and was laid up at the auto repair shop for a couple of months. We healed up OK, none too worse for wear, extremely thankful that the accident wasn’t any more serious than it was. A couple of feet sliding either way, and it would have been.

I have long been thankful to God, and our guardian angels riding with us, for blessings bestowed upon us that Christmas Day Night.

I have also been so thankful to Mother Nature, and those strong, little trees.

Bless you all.

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Does a cat really have nine lives?

What about people?

In a couple of posts last June, I shared stories about my own “close encounters” as it were, in the post examining a serious horseback accident at the Canyon Creek Ranch in southwest Montana in the summer of 1964, and then other horse accidents during 1975 and 1976, in Wyoming.

And then there were the brushes with rattlesnakes in the summer of 1975.

There have been a few more “brushes” along the way, too, that maybe could be considered as having “done in” a couple of more of those cat lives.

One the more interesting aspects, for me, of living, working and volunteering down here in Long Beach on the Gulf Coast these past 22 months, has been the freight trains which pass through here several times during the day and night, transporting who knows what, back and forth along the Gulf Coast.

71554443.5Iaxq0nWTrainEngine-1

My weekday work campus and my travel trailer location are both very near the tracks of the CSX Railroad, and I love seeing and hearing the freight trains traveling through several times each day and night.

During the night before retiring, I hear the trains as they rumble past, the loud horn blowing its two long, one short and one long blasts, as they approach each crossing in its path.

One such cat life, close encounter experience of mine involved an incident with a train, myself and my brand new tricycle on my birthday in 1950, in Cashton, Wisconsin.

As I recall from my own personal memories, and those of my mother supplied years later, concerning that birthday train incident, it was a warm, sunshiny, summer day.

My parents had given me a great birthday present that morning, a brand new shiny tricycle, before my father had left for his work as a route salesman in that part of the state, for the Oscar Mayer Company, of Madison.

After lunch that day, while my mother was busy in the kitchen, I went to take that new trike for a spin around the block.

My older sister and I were allowed to play on the sidewalks and in the yards next to our home, and had been instructed not to go into the street. The train track crossing thing was kind of fuzzy, though.

For the first part of my journey, I remember pedaling down the side walk to the local school, then turning around and heading the other way, towards the train tracks, which ran a block away, on the other side of our house.

Oh, it was fun cruising along on that shiny new beauty!

Everything was going just great, until I came to where the railroad tracks crossed the sidewalk.

As I went to cross the tracks, I got by the first rail OK, and then was stopped cold when my front trike wheel turned sideways and went “slup” down into the slot between the second rail and the pavement next to the rail, becoming instantly stuck tightly in the slot.

Here it was, my birthday, and I was riding my brand new trike, and now it was stuck on the railroad tracks. I was upset!

For several minutes or so, I tried in vane, to pull that trike out from between the rail and the pavement. But, try as I might, I couldn’t get it loose.

Now, what?

Well, the “now, what” loudly announced itself, as an on-coming freight train horn started blowing from a block away, swiftly moving my way.

As I turned and saw the train rolling towards me, I remember the locomotive horn getting louder and louder, so very near to where I was, and I pulled and pulled on that trike with all my might to get it loose.

Finally, with the train engineer frantically blowing his horn and the engine virtually upon me only a few yards away, I let go of the trike’s handle bars, scrambled off the tracks to a place about 10 feet away, and watched as the huge train engine crushed and crunched my tricycle beneath its huge steel wheels, as it rolled on by.

After about 10 rail cars had passed, I turned around and started walking back along the sidewalk towards my house. Upon arriving there, I walked up the front steps and went inside.

To supplement my memories of that experience, my mother related many years later, the details of what transpired next.

As I walked into the kitchen, where my mother was working, I walked over to her and said, “Whatcha doin’?”

She said, “Baking cookies.”

I said, “Can I have some?”

She said, “OK,” and gave me a couple, which were still warm, fresh out of the oven.

As I was walking away, I stopped, turned around for a moment and said, “Train ran over my trike, Mommy.” after which I turned back around and walked out the door to the front steps, sat down and started to eat my cookies.

About that time, a close friend of my father’s, Hugh Bacon, the local fuel oil dealer in our town, came half-running, half-walking, up our sidewalk, panting like a hot dog, like he was all out of breath, went up our stairs, and into our house, calling out for my mother.

A few moments later, I heard her shriek loudly, saying, “OH MY GOD!” She then came running out the front door to where I was sitting, scaring me half to death, grabbed me by the arms, looked into my eyes, and said, “Are you all right?”

Trying my best not to choke on a mouth full of cookies, I replied, “I’m OK, Mommy.”

With that, she sat down beside me and began to cry. By that time, Hugh had come out of the house, and he sat down besides me, too.

Years later, I listened as she told of the experience that day, and she related that Hugh had told her that he was up on top of one of his huge bulk storage tanks, on the other side of the tracks, getting ready to load his bulk delivery truck, when he heard the train horn blowing unusually long as it approached the railroad crossing a block away from our house. He looked up and then towards the approaching train, and then saw me over on the tracks with my tricycle.

Instantly realizing the danger I was in, he frantically tried to climb down the ladder from the top of the bulk tank and get to me before the train reached me and crushed me underneath its wheels.

Hugh said that he yelled and yelled at me to get away from the tracks, but apparently I was too focused on trying to free the trike, and I didn’t hear him.

Hugh added that, when he had reached the bottom of the tank ladder, he looked over at me, and watched helplessly as the train approached to within 15’-20’ of where I was standing by my tricycle, thinking to himself that I was about to be run over by the train.

He said that virtually at the last second before the train reached me, I appeared to jump off the tracks to about 10’ away, and stood there, watching the front of the train roll over my tricycle, grinding it to bits.

He then said that I turned away from the train and walked down the sidewalk to my house, up the front steps and inside. He then started running across the tracks and up the sidewalk to our house to find my mother.

Hugh said that he had never been so scared in his life, and had never seen anyone come so close to being killed right in front of him.

My mother never said anything more about the train incident to me, until years later, when I was an adult, when she helped make many of the details of what happened then, much more clearer.

When my father returned home that evening from work, my mother told him what had happened that afternoon. That evening, my father had a talk with me about staying off the train tracks. Strangely though, I did lose another trike to a train in that same place, during the time we lived there prior to moving to Michigan for a year.

Unfortunately, for my mother, that was far from the only great scare that we kids gave her while we were growing up. And, I will have to admit, most of the scares were my doing.

Bless her heart, she passed away at the young age of 62, but that was mainly due to the effects of an adult lifetime of having diabetes.

In all my life, I have never known a more caring soul.

As for me, another cat life was probably gone in that experience.

And, I remain eternally grateful for that guardian angel who got me off those tracks that day so long ago.

*************************************************

Close encounters with Automobiles will be along soon

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In prior discussions/posts about ‘close encounters,’ your author shared past experiences during this lifetime (Horse #1, and Horse #2 & #3, plus rattlesnakes), including potential ‘cat lives’ that he may have used up. A new series: Planes, Trains and Automobiles, discusses additional, past, life-threatening incidents which come to mind, involving your author and an airplane, a train or two, and an a couple of automobiles.

The first experience involves an airplane.

“Harvey, there’s a deer in the middle of the runway!”

I was living in south central Wisconsin, married to Blond Girl, with three small children, at that time this incident occurred, working with a local real estate firm.

An owner of the firm, was a former WW-II pilot and instructor, named Harvey.

One day, while listening to Harvey talk about his past flying experiences, including a recent one in one of his planes, I asked him if he would consider giving me some affordable flying lessons, so maybe I could obtain my Private Pilot’s License.

Harvey said, “Sure, no problem. When do you want to start?”

So, that very afternoon, I had my first flying lesson in a little two-seater, single engine airplane, in what is termed a “tail-dragger.”

A couple of months and several lessons later, I was catching on pretty good on how to fly a small airplane. I was steadily losing my fear of piloting a small plane and looking forward to soloing, and then getting my license.

All was progressing along well.

Until one bright afternoon.

Harvey and I were out flying about 2-3 hours that afternoon, and I had made several landings and take offs, and a few “touch and go’s,” at several small, rural airports, including a couple that had grass landing strips. It was a lot of fun, and I was really enjoying myself.

As we finally were near to landing late in the afternoon at our home landing strip, I was seated in the front seat, and put the plane into a slow bank towards the far end of the runway, put on some flaps, and smoothly brought the plane down to a few feet above the surface of the asphalt runway.

Upon glancing farther down the runway, to a point about halfway down the strip, my mouth opened in disbelief and near panic flashed through me like a sudden electrical shock at what I saw there.

“Shit, Harvey,” I exclaimed as I somehow got the words out of my mouth, “there’s a deer standing right in the middle of the runway!”

Ole Harvey, sensing the excitement in my voice, was just calm as he could be, and said, “He’ll probably move out of the way, but, just in case, I’ll take it.” Meaning, from his position in the back seat, he took over the controls.

As I lifted my hands off the flight controls, Harvey quickly, and rather nonchalantly, adjusted the flaps, kicked the throttle full forward, and banked hard left, up and away from the runway, and above the adult whitetail doe, which was still standing on the runway like a statue, looking at us crazy humans.

After we had just cleared the deer, Harvey banked back right, and came back around to the end of the runway I was going to land on, and as we looked down at the deer, it slowly walked off the runway, and then disappeared into the brush.

Harvey then said, “OK, give it a try again; you got the controls. Let’s get this thing down and put away.”

This time, with no wildlife near the runway, I made a smooth landing, taxied over to where the tie-downs were, and killed the engine, and the flying was over for the afternoon.

Strangely, or perhaps, not so strangely, that was the last time I went flying in a small, private passenger plane.

I think that seeing that deer standing there in the middle of the runway, just as I was hurtling along on a collision course with it, was like a message to me, an omen, perhaps, telling me something.

In any event, I listened to it, and now, except for commercial jets, I am a confirmed ground guy.

Perhaps, like falling off a bike, or, from a horse (boo-bad memories and broken bones there, folks), I should have gotten back in the seat and gone right back up again. But, it was not to be.

Perhaps if a deer-on-the-runway incident had happened to me after I had had a thousand hours of flying time in my log book, I wouldn’t have thought or felt too much about it.

Back when this experience occurred, my children were young, and they, and my sweet wife, needed me.

Alive.

So, I bailed.

No regrets. Just another ‘close encounter’ survival memory.

It works for me.

********************************************

Stay tuned for the next ‘close encounter’ in the Planes, Trains and Automobiles Series, intitled: “The train that eats trikes.”

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As I sit at the dining room table of my humble, temporary abode, and gaze out the north windows over the deck, and gaze across the two-mile wide marsh of the Wolf River, two sleek, white egrets sail along over the top of the reeds, and disappear down onto the river.

I have had the privilege of this beautiful scenic view since last Wednesday, when I drove Master Naturalist Buddy John to the airport in Gulfport, so he could fly to North Dakota with his brother, to visit an old friend and spend a week deer hunting in now what is a land of snow and cold.

John asked me to house sit while he was gone, and take care of his two ‘kids’, Emily, the Tree-Climbing Wonder Dog, and Haylie, the black tailless, Manx cat, who basically, I only see, when she is hungry and comes out to eat. So, here I am, enjoying the view, with Emily asleep at my feet on the rug.

Friday, at my weekday work, was one of the most memorable and special days in the nearly two years that I have been here on the Gulf Coast.

During the past year, whenever I would be working at my weekday job, I normally see and have an opportunity to interact with a number of the clients on the campus where I work, including a man who I will call “Fred.”

Whenever I do run into Fred, he always says to me, “New TV?” Quite a while ago, Fred’s personal TV in his room quit working, and since then, he would ask any of the maintenance men in the department I work in, whenever he would see any of us, in his own way, “New TV?” asking if he would be getting a new television to replace the broken one on his wall in his cottage room.

We would always answer back, “No, not today, Fred.” To which he would ask, “Tomorrow?” several times. When we would say back, “No, Fred, not tomorrow.”

He would then ask, “Next week?” And we would reply, “I don’t know, Fred.”

And by that time, Fred would continue on his way to his class in the Education Building.

These conversations would take place every workday, whenever we were close enough to say ‘Hello’ to Fred.

Well, last week, some extra money became available in Fred’s discretionary spending account, and a new, small flat screen, HD television was ordered for Fred.

When it came in, one of my co-workers, David, was assigned the Work Order to build a protective wood mounting enclosure and mount the new TV on the wall above Fred’s bed. David excels at that type of construction and was tickled that he would be doing this for Fred.

Yesterday afternoon, after David has finished building, sanding and painting the enclosure, he and I went over to Fred’s cottage to install the new color TV.

When we arrived at his cottage, we had one of the Direct Care Workers take Fred to a room in the other end of the cottage and watch TV there, and then we went back out to our trucks to get the TV, the enclosure and our tools to do the installation.

After about a half an hour, we had finished the installation on the wall, and tuned in the available analog and digital channels. The color on the set was gorgeous. We brought up the Cartoon Channel, Fred’s favorite, turned up the volume a little, and then David went down the hall to talk with Fred.

Of course, when David walked into the room where Fred was sitting, the first thing Fred said when he saw David, was, “New TV?” …meaning: “Can I get a new TV?”

I think David said, “I don’t know, Fred, why don’t you come and take a walk with me?”

Myself, Raymon, our supervisor, and two or three other staff members were down in Fred’s room, waiting in the opposite corner of the room from his TV, when they walked into the room.

Fred heard the noise from the TV over by his window and walked over towards it.

When we got over there, he turned to his right and saw the new TV on the wall, and literally exploded with joy, jumping up and down, exclaiming: “NEW TV! NEW TV! NEW TV!”

With tears sliding down his cheeks, he hurried from the room, all the while exclaiming, “NEW TV! NEW TV NEW TV,” all the way down the hall into the other wing, to tell all of his cottage mates that he had a new TV, and then back again, bringing several of them with him, to show them his new TV.

Those of us standing there, observing his excitement, I believe had a tear or two, also, seeing how very happy he was. Now Fred could watch his favorite cartoon, ‘Popeye,’ on his own TV again.

It will be interesting to see what Fred says tomorrow at work, when I run into him when he is on the way to class, to see what he says, now that he has a “New TV.”

What a neat, special, human experience to have been privileged to be a little part of.

I am so happy for Fred.

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