Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Power of Prayer

My father taught me an important life and spiritual lesson one day, and I wonder if he even realized he was doing it.

When I was around eight or nine years old, we got a new female puppy.  She was more or less a heinz 57 (or so my father would say).  She was just basically a mutt, short-haired dog.  We named her Snoopy.

Now, I am an animal lover, and I used to love spending time with puppies.   I sort of claimed Snoopy as my own.  I would carry her around on my shoulders, and just wile away my time playing with her.  In some ways, it seemed to me it was sort of an unconditional love.  I mean, I have ADHD, but did not know or understand even what that was until my oldest son was in first grade.  I used to do a lot of acting out, and be obnoxious to friends of my brothers and sisters.  I could not sit still, and could not concentrate on one thing for very long.  Sitting the long days in school was especially hard for me.  I remember daydreaming a lot.  So, having a puppy was some comfort when it seemed (to me) that everyone else looked down at me.

So, all my acting out, and not thinking about many of the things I would do, often caused me to get into trouble.  I used to think my parents didn't love me, or that others were just out to get me.  I never connected the two until I became an adult with my own children.

Having animals to spend time with gave me some sort of comfort from the outside world that "didn't like me so much."  Animals always liked me.  I have always taken comfort spending time with them.

Snoopy and I were best pals.  One day I was carrying her over my shoulder, and for some reason she slipped and fell to the ground.  She must have hit her head or something, because suddenly she was paralyzed.  I was very scared, and did not know what to do.  It must have been a Saturday, or an early evening, because my father was home.

I went directly to my father, and explained to him that I did not know what happened, but that Snoopy fell and was now not able to move.  I was very scared, and thought I had permanently injured her.

I was surprised that dad did not yell, or run out to see what had happened.  Maybe he didn't think I was serious, or didn't know what I was talking about.  Maybe, since I had eight or nine other siblings at the time, he was just preoccupied with keeping the peace.  He simply looked at me, and calmly said something to the effect, "I guess you better pray, and ask Heavenly Father for help."  A bit surprised I didn't think of that myself, I figured that if anyone could help Snoopy Heavenly Father could.

I went back outside where I had left her, then found a spot in the yard where I could be alone for a few minutes, and prayed my heart out.  I do not know what I said, other than to ask Heavenly Father to help my little friend.  I am sure I told Him that I was sorry, but did not mean her any harm.

Anyone reading this is going to think I simply made this up, but I tell you within a few minutes Snoopy began to move her limbs.  She stood up, and was finally back to her jovial puppy self.  And I was a humbled little boy who has believed strongly in the power of prayer ever since.  It was a powerful lesson with a tangible result.

Snoopy went on to live another 13 or 14 years, having had numerous litters of puppies, having had numerous run-ins with porcupines and skunks, and just living out the life of a country dog.  She finally succumbed to something that caused her to have tumors all over her body.  I suspect it was a form of cancer.

I'll always be grateful to that little puppy, and to my father for reminding me of what I could do about any situation in my life.  I have a firm testimony of prayer, and that God truly does answer them - when we are humble, and sincere.  I have many more examples of answers to prayer that I may someday share.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Just a Rambling

Like most people, I did a lot of goofy things growing up. I mean, let's face it, growing up near a small town left a teenager with lots of time to waste, and cook up things to do.

Pushing a car.For instance, my friends and I would get bored at football games, and since you had to park on the street at the school for games, people were not in sight of their cars. We got the idea one time to just go and move the car of someone we knew. We would just move it from under the street light to a dark shadowy area nearby. Or, we would move a car around the corner from where it was left. These were the days when most high schoolers had cars from the 60's that did not have steering wheel locks. So it was pretty easy to get in and move them. Lock the car? Shoot, it was a small town. People didn't mess with other people's cars (except us).

Well, we thought it was a hilarious thing to do. We could just imagine the car owner coming out to where they "thought" they left their car, and it wasn't there! Of course, we never stuck around to see the result. We were too chicken that some of our enemies would find out and kill us.

My best friend growing up was Brian. He lived in town, while I lived out in the country. Even for a small town it felt like a big difference between living in the country and living in town. For one thing, when push button phones came onto the scene, I thought it was the most ingenious thing that you could just punch buttons to dial someone's number. The most fun part was learning to play songs by punching the different numbers! I mean, out in the country we still had a party line. We had just gotten a dial phone not too many years previous. That was a huge improvement over picking up the phone, waiting for the operator, and giving her the number you wanted to call.

In any case, Brian and I were always looking for something new to do. We had a few other friends in town that we would play fox and hounds with using our cars, but when it was just the two of us, we needed to find something simpler.

1966 Rambler Classic 660Around the time I got my driver's license, Dad picked up a 1966 Rambler Classic automobile. It was probably a $300 find. I mean this car was a tank! It had a huge steering wheel, because it did not have power steering. It took three arms to turn the wheel when maneuvering in a parking lot or turning around. It also had a three-speed stick shift on the steering column, and a switch on the dash to turn on or off the overdrive function (for fuel economy). I remember you had to get it up to cruising speed, then let off on the gas a for a few seconds for overdrive to kick in.

The Rambler could seat 6 teenagers quite comfortably. It was pretty big. It had a 6 cylinder 232 cubic inch engine that was solid as they come. On County Highway G just north of Eagle River there was about a 2 mile straight stretch, where you could really wind a vehicle up if you wanted to. One day I decided I wanted to see how fast this Rambler would go. I got it up to 105 mph on that stretch, then realized that a wheel bearing could go out, or one of the old nylon front tires could easily blow out. I quickly slowed down. Needless to say I never did that again.

HUGE snow bankBack to Brian and I looking for something to do. It was winter of '74-'75, and we were just driving around bored out of our minds. I pulled into the bank parking lot, and got to looking at the snowbanks betwen the parking lot lights. I wondered how hard it would be to get up some speed and drive right through that bank. So, I told Brian to hold on (I think we decided to put on our seat belts). I backed up, got up some speed, and blasted right through that snowbank. Snow went flying as if a bomb had just gone off. We couldn't see a thing out the windshield for a few seconds.

Now THAT gave us a thrill! So, I started plowing through more spots in the bank, and ramming them even faster. We were just laughing so hard we couldn't see straight. I know, I know, it doesn't take much to amuse some teenagers. But, hey, at least we weren't out doing drugs, or going to beer parties and such. After awhile, I noticed I couldn't see the road too well. We figured we'd better get out and check the front of the car. You guessed it, snow was packed so tightly into the headlights and grille that it took us awhile to unpack it.

To this day, I'm amazed the police did not see us doing this, or that someone in the area didn't report us. I mean, the lot was lit up pretty well. Of course, there weren't houses around, and the town literally shut down after 6:00 pm. We were just content to get our thrill by blasting through those snow banks and watching the snow just explode all over. For some reason we began talking like we were asian, and chanting, "Prow snow! Prow snow!". We just snickered at the thought of people coming to work the next morning and seeing the snow pushed all over the parking lot.

We never did get caught. In fact, this is the first time I've really recounted this story in over 30 years. I wonder if Brian remembers it the same as I do.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The "Expert" Novice Skier

I could write volumes about my snow skiing exploits. My mother was born and raised in Park City, UT. However, it was not a ski town when she was growing up in the 30's and 40's. She did manage to obtain skis and hike up the mountains and catch the ski bug at a young age.

So, when I was 10 years old, my mother obtained some old ski equipment and helped us get into the sport ourselves. It was one of the most fun things she ever instilled in me. I loved it from the first day, albeit I got a bit too cocky. Fortunately, there weren't many there to witness that event.

It was during the winter of '68/'69. My oldest brother, Kevin had already gone skiing a few times before, so he was "an old hat" at it. He was going to hit the slopes of a tiny hill near Eagle River called the Chanticleer. He was going with his friend Mike Gough (I believe). I asked if I could tag along.

I got outfitted with some old wooden skis, with "hanging in the straps" bindings (meaning they had long leather thongs that wrapped around the old leather boots in a crisscross fashion to hold the skis on - it also meant they didn't come off when you fell, very dangerous for a leg bone). They were straight out of the 30's or 40's. The boots were leather lace-ups, with a squared toe to fit into the metal toe piece. They resembled hiking boots of today - well sort of. The poles were made of bamboo with metal points, leather straps for the wrists, and a basket made of leather and a metal ring. (The ski pole basket is to keep the pole from driving down deep into the snow when planting the pole for turning.)

So, here I am going with my brother and his friend for this big day of skiing. Now, the Chanticleer Inn has been around Eagle River for years and years. The ski hill was just a large hill on the property that was maybe 50 feet vertical to the top, and maybe 200 feet run off. It was really dinky, but was good enough for me to have fun. It was actually perfect for a beginner. Well, except for the rope tow to get us up the hill.

Rope towRope tows are not the easiest things to learn, because you have to put your poles in one hand, pick up the wet moving rope (a rope that is about 1 1/2 inch in diameter that drags along the snow when no one is using it), then try and grab it slow enough that it doesn't jerk you forward and right off balance. Years later, when I became a professional ski instructor, it was always difficult teaching beginners how to use the rope. Usually children learned it quicker than adults.

We arrive at the hill excited to get the day started. To our delight there is no one else there! Kevin helped me get my equipment squared away, and we were off to tackle the terrain. He gave me pointers on how to use the rope to get to the top. He explained that there was a safety rope that would shut the tow off should I get caught, or be unable to release myself soon enough. It was a fairly simple concept, but just took some coordination to get used to.

I made it to the top of the hill (it seemed giant to me, being from the midwest and all). Kevin also gave me a few pointers on how to go down straight, and how to turn. At first I just went down straight until I stopped. I would go to about the parking lot and stop. Then back up for another go at it. I found it exhilirating to say the least! I mean, I can go fast without tons of effort. What could be more fun than that, right?

Soon, I experimented with wedging my skis out to stop, and putting more pressure on one than the other to turn one way or the other. I began to get quite confident. I was becoming an "expert" skier (at least I thought I was). I was getting so confident, that I started going over the snowbank that was between the ski run and the parking lot. Then, I started lifting up while going over and found I could get some air! My confidence was building. Each time I went over I landed better and better. I was also beginning to get quite a bit of air.

By this time, Kevin and his friend were oblivious of me. I was having so much fun riding up and skiing down, that I didn't care if anyone else was there or not. Finally, having jumped several times with success, I determined that I was going to try a trick. What trick would one postulate that a 10 yr old would come up with (I mean never having watched skiing before)? Of course, it would have to be an attempt at a full forward flip in the air. After all, I was good at what I was doing. Why not go for the hard stuff right away?

I'm at the top of the hill, staring down the path to my most excellent jump. I'm determined to get up as much speed as I can muster to obtain the lift I need for the flip. I push with my poles, and I'm off. Pushing harder and harder to get up speed. Then I tuck my arms in, and crouch down for optimum speed. I hit the approach to the jump, and suddenly I'm airborne. A quick tuck of my head, and I'm dreaming of flipping all the way around. THWACK!!! I come crashing down on my head, and the rest of me crumples down in the hard snow of the parking lot. Did I just break my neck? It sure felt like I did - well, at least at first it felt like it. I gathered my composure, and it looked like my brother and his friend never even saw what I just did. Whew! What a relief to be spared the ribbing I would get.

To quote a famous cliché, I had to jump back on the horse and ride it again. I finished out skiing the rest of the day (and loving it), but not trying any more flips. Even with that awful crash landing (and subsequent scraped forehead), I was exhilirated and excited to find what would become my favored sport of all time. I recounted the experience of my first day skiing many times over the years.

P.S. I didn't succeed with flips and other tricks until years later when I had had many ski runs under my belt - oh, and much better equipment conducive to that type of abuse.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fire! Fire! Or The Blame Game

During my earliest years - in the early 1960's - the Gough's lived across the street from our house. But, one day (what seemed to me, anyway) they up and moved. I mean, they didn't just move themselves and their belongings, but they moved their entire house! So, the property across the street lay vacant never to have a house stand on it again. That meant that our next nearest neighbors, the Glembin's - who lived about 1/4 mile to the south of us - were the only people around who had any children our ages. Early on, we were good friends with them, but as we grew, we grew more distant. I think it was mostly because we attended public school, and they attended the Catholic school. The Vilas - Oneida county line also ran between our properties, so when they went to High School, they went to Three Lakes instead of Eagle River.

One fine late summer day, Kurt was out in our field playing on a rock formation that we used to pretend was our fort, or a ship, or whatever we came up with at the time. This rock formation was sort of in the middle of a field bordered by trees. The grass was tall, and the summer had been quite dry. Thus, the grass was very flammable.
Toy army men.
Kurt had been out there playing army with his army men and toys. I think Kirby and KarsonGrass Fire had been playing there with him as well. Kurt thought it would be great fun to try and use firecrackers and make it seem like his army men were really being blown up (yes, we usually had some contreband firecrackers from South Carolina around). Well, as one can imagine, with the wind blowing and the extremely dry grass, and if one is not careful a fire can get away in a hurry. I can imagine the horror that must have run through Kurt's mind as he frantically tried to stomp out the fire, but the flames would just jump to more grass until it was way too big for him to control.

Fire beatersI was maybe 10 or 12 at the time, and saw the smoke billowing up from out in the field. I ran and told Dad, then grabbed one of the fire beaters he had around the place and headed out to start stomping out the flames. Dad, Kevin, and anyone else who was around grabbed the fire extinguishers, and other firefighting equipment and drove out to the location. We fought frantically for about 10 - 15 minutes before all the flames were extinguished. It was the closest I ever care to be to a forest fire.

When everything was settled down, and we were certain no more flames would crop up, attention focused on Kurt, and how the fire started in the first place. He began to relate a story of how the youngest Glembin boy - I believe is name was John - came over and started lighting matches willy-nilly around the place until the grass caught fire. He began to elaborate on how John wanted to get him into trouble, and didn't care what he did with the matches.

Well, Kurt's story didn't make sense, because we didn't have much interraction with the Glembins by that time, and it didn't make sense that suddenly one of the boys would think to come over to our property and just be malicious. However, Dad was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Then along came supper, and Kurt was told he had to stay in his room to figure out what had happened.

In the end, Kurt finally fessed up that HE was the one playing with matches and that one got away from him in the wind. He did feel bad he was not able to put it out, but then instead of coming to get help he tried to run away and let it all go. I think it was a life-changing lesson for him that day. We all grew a little bit that day. I felt some responsibility of a grown-up, because I just responded by grabbing the firefighting "whomper" (as I used to call it) and was a big help in getting it put out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears...

I'm guessing that each one of us, at some point in our lives, has to learn to face and overcome fears of our youth. I had one such encounter with my fears when I was about 11 years old.

My older brothers, Kevin and Kory, and I decided one fine summer day that we wanted to go camping up the river from our house. There weren't many houses along the river at this time. There were more on the north side than on the south side, which was where our house sat. That was due partly because we owned between 1/4 and 1/2 mile of frontage property along that side of the river. There was an area maybe 1/4 mile up river that was vacant land, and had a nice flat spot up the bank to camp on. It was definitely a different day and age, when you didn't need to seek out who owned the property and obtain permission to just camp. We never defaced the property, and always took (or burned) any trash we had.

Well, since we were going by boat on this campout, we figured we had better determine all the supplies we needed for one night. I don't believe we bothered to take a tent, because we loved sleeping out under the stars. That brings me to my one fear that plagued me all during my growing years - fear of the dark.

I don't know if it's because the darkness can hide all sorts of things that makes one fearful of it or what. In my belief system, I believe that Satan has power over the darkness. As evidence look at all the evil things that take place at night. People tend to become more decadent in the darkness. I mean, there's a whole different world that lurks in the darkness. So I think that is part of where my fear came from. To this day, I'm still not the most comfortable in the deep woods at night, but have at least arrived at the point where I can stand to be there and not tremble in fear. For me, I always conjured up images of bears, or badgers, or other mean animals seeking me out in the night. Any noise would get me wondering what was out there watching us, or waiting to tromp on us.

So, I knew that if I was with my brothers, and was sleeping between them it would be more like safety in numbers for me. I gathered up my things - which probably consisted of maybe a sweatshirt and a sleeping bag - and lit out with Kevin and Kory on our trek. We arrived at the campsite before dark, and set up what we needed to set up. Then we got a fire going. By this time it was getting dusk. I grabbed the hatchet and began chopping on a log - mostly to keep myself occupied. Suddenly, Kory decided he needed the hatchet to chop down a larger branch or something. I was kneeling near the log I was chopping on, and he just reached out to grab the hatchet as I was swinging it down. It veered from the log and hit me in the left knee with the sharpened edge. Needless to say I was devastated, not to mention that I also had a sizeable gash in my knee.

Kevin took pity on me, and helped me down to the boat and ran me home. We didn't have much to do with doctors in those days, so Mom was the doctor/nurse. She cleaned up the wound with water and peroxide (much to my displeasure and pain), then put two or three butterfly bandages on the wound and I was good as new. I was a bit sore and limping, but decided to go back out and finish the campout.

Things settled down between Kory and I, and after having marshmallows or hot dogs or something, we were just sitting on our logs around the fire enjoying the night. By this time it was plenty dark.

Suddenly, I began to hear rustling in the ferns and woods around us. I'm sure that Kevin and Kory knew I was afraid of the dark, so they began conjuring up stories about bears being around and watching us. Well, the hairs began standing up on the back of my neck, to be sure. Then I hear more rustling, and I was sure there was a bear or wolf just waiting to attack us. Heck, I may have even thought it could have been a werewolf. Then, I start hearing some growling sounds. Well, it just about did me in at that point, and I think I just froze where I was and couldn't even breathe!

Whoosh, "Roar", and out pops this figure in the dark from the bushes, and runs up upon us! I about nearly wet my pants, until in the light of the fire I could see it was Dad who had snuck his way up the river in a canoe . He had come to check up on us. I said, "Thanks, Dad!" facetiously. That pretty much did my nerves in for the night, and I had to go back home with him to sleep safe and soundly in my own bed.

I've often reflected back on that experience, and wondered if anyone really even knew the extent of my fear of the dark. I guess that's why I'm more self-reliant than most, because I just learned to overcome things like that on my own. It does make one stronger to go through such experiences.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Playing Chicken

My next younger brother, Kurt, and I were almost always in competition with each other. We always considered it a challenge to try and one-up each other. Shamefully, I recall being more mean to him, or even taking advantage of him at times to suit my purposes. I will always regret those times, and hope he will have the heart to forgive me for being that way.

Still, one-upmanship was generally the norm with us. Along with that one-upmanship, we were constantly trying to see who was more daring. Usually I would win out - mainly because I was bigger and older. I thought I was always smarter, or wiser than Kurt as well. However, it just might be that he let me win out on so many of the competitions.

When we would try and build forts in the woods, we would start out on one together, then I would get too bossy or persnickety and he would get tired and go build his own. He generally finished ahead of me. I always went for fancy schmancy, and he went for practicality. I generally never finished mine.

One area where Kurt far excelled was when it came to firearms. I never really got into them too much, and he went full force into getting his own reloading equipment and making his own shells. He became quite expert at firearms.

Well, our quest for one-upmanship played into almost everything we did. We had a road that went west from our road for about three miles. The road began at the top of a fairly steep hill, then went down and up another hill about half the size of the first one. In our earliest years the road was made of gravel, which would wreak havoc on sled runners. Eventually, the township paved the road, and boy did it make for some fantastic sledding. The surface would ice over making it a perfect run for a runner sled. Car drivers travelling on that road didn't appreciate us too much, because they would have to slow down since we were often on the road. Come on, it was our private sledding hill! The drivers would sometimes lose too much momentum for getting up the big hill when they had to stop and wait for us to clear the road. Then they would have to back all the way up the smaller hill to get a good run at the large hill. Fortunately, there weren't too many people who used the road.

One day when I was about 10 or 12, I went out to the hill with Kurt. We decided
he would go down first on HIS sled and see how far he could go up the smaller hill without stopping. He went down in a flash, and in watching him I could see that he did not want to go up the smaller hill, because then it was a long walk back up the big hill. Somewhat reluctantly, though, Kurt walked up the smaller hill and got himself ready to go down and climb the big hill. I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to go down the large hill and see who could go faster.

Down I go, and picking up speed ever so quickly. I figured I was going about 30 mph, but in reality was probably doing about half that. By this time Kurt had started down the smaller hill. I kept a steady course, and steered straight into his path. So, here comes our oneupmanship...neither of us veered in either direction. By now we were steering straight for each other, and Kurt was now picking up speed. Closer and closer we are speeding towards each other, still neither of us veering off course.

Suddenly, when it felt like I was doing about 60 (but in reality probably only about 15-20) we collided. Since both of us were laying down head first on our sleds, where would our heads go but to slam into each other. Kabam!! There was nothing left but to pick up the pieces. I think Kurt got a bloody lip and some loose teeth out of the incident, and I just bumped my head. I think we were both totally amazed we weren't maimed with our skulls cracked wide open.

What this incident proved was how very determined each of us were at besting the other. I know I had no intention on steering out of the way. I figured that since he was the younger brother HE would be the one to veer out of the way. I guess, in the end, we were just too dumb to know how hard we would collide, and how much it would hurt. Neither of us won that day - or did we both win? At any rate, we're left with an interesting memory.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The End of the Spear

Speaking of homemade weapons... We spent countless hours making slingshots, bows, arrows, spears, toy guns (including rubberband guns) - just about anything we could come up with. Heck, we would even take the galvanized garbage can lids and use them as shields as we gathered up pockets of acorns or even small pebbles for our throwing fights. Yes, we would literally throw those objects at each other. It wasn't just a light lob to let them know it was coming their way. No, no! We threw them at full force. Thus, the need for the shields.

Anyway, we spent a great deal of time working on those weapons to get the arrows as straight as we could, or make sure the bow was strong enough to pierce thick cardboard at about 50 feet, or whatever we could think of to make them more "real".

Throwing a spear.When we made a spear, we tried to keep it for as long as we could (providing it didn't break in playing with it). We came up with our own unique markings to identify our individual spears. At first, for the tip, we would just use a hatchet and chop it into the sharpest wedge we could make. However, eventually we would tire of that and want it to stick into more things at which we would throw the thing. So, we would take a knife and whittle away at the tip to round it, and make a nice tapered and sharp point. But, even that got tiring, because when we threw it at something the point would usually break off and we would have to sharpen it all over again.

Eventually, we figured out that we could slightly burn the tip then rub it on a river rock to sharpen it. Not only would it get sharp, but it seemed to harden the tip more than it was naturally. That was nice for awhile, but it soon became old hat. Besides, we didn't always have a campfire to use to keep sharpening the tip when it got dull.

Tin canAs would normally be the case with us, we began experimenting. Now, if my parents always knew what we were doing, they would have suffered many fits over our antics. However, Mom would send us outside most of the time, because in the house we either got in her way, messed up the house, or just roughhoused too much. We didn't mind, though. We loved spending countless hours outside, winter or summer, playing all our games, or just looking for some new adventure. As I was saying, we began experimenting with our spear tips. What did we come up with? Tin! Yep, those tin cans were finally proving useful for something. All we needed to do was to cut out the round tin top from a can, then cut a slice to the center. Since the spear tip was round and tapered, a round tin can lid fit almost like a glove - well, as long as you could tap a glove onto your hand with a hammer and tacks.

It was important to take our time while installing this tin tip to the spear. We wanted it to be as sharp as it could be. We finally hit pay dirt! The spear would stick in wood and pierce through that thick cardboard like it was butter. We were quite pleased with ourselves. Yes, we would even play our "Hunter and Hunted" game with these metal tipped spears!

Vintage travel trailer.One fine summer day, we were out playing our game of "Hunter and Hunted". Kory was the hunter. He had just newly tipped his spear with some heavy-duty tin. Low and behold one of us ran by the twenty-one foot travel trailer that was stored in the back yard. (Not only was it great on long trips, but it served as an extra bedroom when we had more company than we had rooms in our large house.) Well, as I said, Kory wound up and let that spear fly from where he was stalking in the field. Whomever was the target of that spear was so very lucky, because it sailed straight and true - right into the side of that travel trailer! He threw it with such force that it penetrated the side of the trailer, and stuck part way through to the inside! We were quite impressed - and also knew that Kory would suffer the wrath of Dad when he found out what had happened! It was a priceless moment! It also pretty much ended our modified, metal-tipped spear experiments.