Saturday, December 13, 2014

A wonderful neighbor

We have some great neighbors.  When Monte, who lives in front of us, was planning his new house, he came up to stand on our front porch.  He wanted to be sure that what he built would not interfere with our view.  I was home teacher to Robert and Jolene, immediately to our east, for many, many years.  About 10 years ago Jim and Ronnie moved in next door.  Jim came over to introduce himself.

As we were getting acquainted I mentioned that I went to UW to dental school.  Jim informed me that he and his wife are ardent Washington State Cougars.  Of course the two schools are strong rivals in everything athletic.  It was not much longer into the conversation that I mentioned that I am LDS, he mentioned that he is Catholic and not interested in becoming LDS, and that he is a fervent Democrat.  Right away I knew that we didn’t have much in common.  His wife is just a simple, salt-of-the-earth woman who loves her husband and has a twin sister.

Over the years I have grown to love Jim as a neighbor and as a friend. Jim has always been ready and willing to help with my small motor problems.  More than once I have called him about my tiller or weed trimmer.  He has always thanked me for calling him.  He says he loves to work on small engines and he has thanked me for giving him the opportunity to work on one.  He would fix it up and bring it back to my shop door. 

One day Jim called to ask if I could help him go get a car he bought at a yard sale.  It was an old Fiat that had been sitting in a guy’s yard out in Jerome County for years.  Jim had the trailer, but he needed to use my truck.  I was happy to help, so we drove out and loaded the old car on the trailer and brought it home.  He worked on it for a while, actually got it running and then sold it to someone else.  It was a cute little car, too.  He and Ronnie had had one like it many years ago while they lived in Seattle.

We often compared gardening ideas.  At first Jim had a big garden with corn and cukes and a big hedge of sunflowers by his north fence.  As the years have passed, he has cut back, and the past couple of years he has not had anything in the garden except one old grape vine, which he has just let grow for the resident deer herd.  

Backyard deer

He has always been free to share apples and pears with us.  I have taken him bunches of multi-colored potatoes.  He has maintained his yard as a standard for me to meet.  I appreciate the example.

More than 5 years ago Jim told me that he went to his physician for a physical and the doctor had found a lump on his prostate.  He had it checked out and it was an aggressive form of prostate cancer.  He had surgery and chemo, and things seemed to be quite normal.

Jim has always been interested in astronomy, so he worked to become qualified to run the big telescope at CSI. He has a home telescope, too, and he has often taken great joy in showing some astronomical wonder to me and to others whom he has befriended.  Jim is actually one of the brightest guys I know. 

From my own perspective as one who believes in continuing revelation, many of the “unanswerable” questions are better just put on the shelf until later, when by faith or by study, some of those questions can be answered.  It is my belief that when our perspective changes, many questions that now seem important and difficult will be clearly understood, often in spite of our intellectual capabilities.  There are some things that we will only know when God is ready to reveal them to us.

While we were on our mission, Jim would keep an eye on our place.  He said we could have our grandsons call him any time they had a mechanical question.  One time the lawn mower suddenly stopped running, so the boys called Jim.  The engine was without a drop of oil and the engine had seized.  Jim helped remove the old engine and replace it with a new Kohler engine.  It is running fine.  One time I had my old chain saw up in a tree, trying to cut out some dead wood.  It was a fussy implement and would not run on idle, so I was trying to balance myself on a limb as I climbed up the tree, while keeping the saw going at about half speed.  He saw me up there, grabbed his own chain saw, and came to my rescue.  He mumbled something about Widowmaker.  I used his saw to complete my task.  Then I threw my saw into the trash.

Last week Ronnie called me to say that Jim was going on hospice.  He had recently gone through more chemo, but it was not working like it did before. She was asking if I could pick up their daughter at the airport because she didn’t feel comfortable leaving Jim.  What an honor, to have her call me when they needed help.  I picked up the daughter and brought her home.  Gaye fixed dinner for them and other family members who were gathering at their home.  Two days ago Ronnie called me to say that Jim wanted to have a garage sale on Saturday and recycle some of his “man” things.  She said she and Jim wanted me to come over and pick out something to take home. 

So this morning I went next door to see how things were going.  Ronnie said that Jim was awake and I could go visit him, so I slipped into his room.  He was gray and cold to touch and was heavily medicated, but he recognized me when I spoke my name.  It was good to see him and bid farewell.

Jim died an hour later.  Rest in peace my friend. We will meet again.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Celebration

This says it all.

Merry Christmas, and special thanks to our loving God who sent his Son, and to the Son who came to glorify his Father, and to the Holy Ghost, who teaches all truth.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Old man tomato from my garden
One of my guiding philosophies is “Never kick a skunk”.  It comes to me honestly. When we lived in Dugway Utah we encountered the acrid smell of skunk frequently, especially on hot summer nights.  One Monday the garbage truck did not come around and trash was piled at the curb. I went out to toss an old toy onto the pile and noticed a bunch of feral cats rummaging through the refuse.  I don’t particularly like feral cats, so I shooed them away.  There was one inside a large paper bag, however, that did not run.  I thought I would just give the cat-in-the-bag a good kick, but at the last moment I softened and realized it was a poor little kitty with a learning disability, so instead of kicking it I flicked the bag with my toe.  Imagine my surprise as a scruffy black and white tail came backing out of the bag!

A strange sort of hysteria overcame me.  I began laughing as I ran back to our apartment, yelling,  “A skunk is after me!”  Gaye said, “It got you!  Out!”  I had to go out on the back porch and take off my clothes.  They really stunk. 

Kicking a skunk might hurt the skunk or even kill it, but you can never come away from such an encounter without smelling terrible.  It is just not worth it.

I have encountered skunks at other times and kept my distance.  When Spencer was little he decided he wanted to raise some pheasants.  We built a chicken-wire pen in the garden and watched the chicks quickly grow.  But then we noticed that there were fewer chicks than the day before.  I inspected the wire and found a place where something had crawled into the pen.  It had eaten a few chicks and had even left a pair of bird feet as evidence.  So I borrowed a neighbor’s live trap and decided to catch the feral cat that was doing this.  (I don't think I will ever have a warm fuzzy spot in my heart for feral cats.) Next morning there it was, but it was a skunk, not a cat.  The pheasant pen and the cage reeked of skunk.  I think it had sprayed out all the smell it could generate.  I thought of dispatching the critter with my shotgun, but I finally decided to try to relocate the skunk instead of killing it.  

I borrowed a different neighbor’s snowmobile trailer, threw a piece of canvas over the trap, moved it onto the trailer and hauled it up into the South Hills, where we managed to release the captive skunk (we also left the piece of canvas) without being contaminated.  It would have ample supply of mice to survive.

Early another summer morning a still different neighbor’s dog began barking excitedly, something which she did not usually do.  The neighbors were away for a few days and had asked me to watch after Timber, the dog.  I walked out onto my balcony and saw her pointed towards the house, barking her head off.  I walked over there and saw the problem.  A skunk had wandered into the yard, attracted by the dog food that had been left out.  Timber had startled the intruder and was announcing its presence to the neighborhood.  The skunk was backed against the wall, afraid to run away, and Timber was keeping it there, but far enough away to be out of range.  I called her to come to me, where I held her so the skunk could get away.  That was a close call.

Fast forward to 2014.  We had been on a mission for 18 months prior and were getting settled into our home again.  Then one day about mid-June, Gaye and I both noticed a strong smell of skunk around our house.  That had happened in the past when a skunk had wandered into our yard, but it quickly dissipated as the interloper wandered away looking for something to eat.  This time, however, the smell remained for several days.  There were even places inside the house that had a very strong smell, particularly in the furnace room and in the crawl space under the living room.  We searched the house carefully, expecting but hoping to not find a skunk.  We found nothing, not even any evidence of fur or digging or even a focal point of the odor.

The smell persisted for many weeks.  It would fade, but come back strongly on a hot day.  Last week (now it is mid-November) I went into the furnace room and the odor was unusually strong.  There had to be a skunk somewhere!  I opened the door to the crawl space, where I noticed that one of the lights was out.  Gaye theorized that leaving a light on would keep a skunk away, so she wanted me to replace the burned-out bulb. I suspect she also hangs up garlic to keep away evil spirits, but that is another discussion.

I climbed up on the dirt shelf and replaced the bulb, and that is when I noticed the pile of scruffy black and white hair.  Yep!  There was a dead skunk in our crawl space!  

That was when I also noticed that a cover to one of the vents had been torn and that is how the critter had entered the basement.  
The vent is a few feet above the dirt floor, so it had no way to get out.  It had actually gone to a corner and tried to dig its way out, but ran into the cement footing. 

I slid the carcass and the old insulation it was on into a garbage bag and took it out to the trash.  Three days later the mess was hauled off to the garbage dump.

So when you smell a skunk, trust your nose.  They are pretty hard to hide. And remember to never kick a skunk.

Friday, October 31, 2014


I don’t like Halloween.  I think I have always felt sort of negative towards the “holiday” because it seemed to me that it was not something worthy of a special designation for celebration.  It was always dark and mysterious and somehow related to the false doctrine of ghosts floating around, senselessly bothering people who had done nothing to them.

My first recollection of the day was when we lived in Logan while Dad was finishing his master’s degree.  We lived in the prefabricated married student housing, basically a roof over our heads and not much more.  One night some teenage boys knocked on our door and said what sounded to me like, “Tweet, tweet!”

Mom fished out some sort of goodies and gave it to them and they left. I asked her in my six-year old innocence what that was all about.  “Oh, they are trick-or-treating,” she said to me. 

I asked her what that meant.  She said kids go out to their neighbors’ homes, knock on the door, and say, “Trick or treat.”  You give them a treat so they won’t pull a trick on you, like putting soap on your windows.

That seemed not right to me.  What gave people the right to place a ransom, a blackmail sort of thing?

I always wondered what sort of tricks would be appropriate for someone who did give a treat.  One year I went with some friends in Sugar City, so I must have been about 6, and we knocked on a friend’s door, expecting to receive a nice treat.  Some old lady with a witch mask on her face and broom in her hand came screaming out of the house, swinging the broom, beating us on the head and shoulders until we managed to escape onto the lawn.  I still can’t figure that one out.

We lived in Rexburg, I was in about the 5th grade, and some friends invited me to come with them to gather goodies Trick-or-Treating.  My friends all had big grocery paper bags, so I took one, too, and off we went.  We actually accumulated a sizeable amount of loot and I was feeling good about the prospects of munching on the stuff for several days.  Bach then the goodies were usually things like popcorn balls or homemade fudge or a stick of gum.  If someone gave us a real candy bar, that was a luxury.

We were walking along a dimly lighted street, heading toward our next victim, when I noticed a couple of much bigger boys rising up out of the weeds along the side of the road.  They rushed noisily towards us, yelling and screaming as they came.  I froze, but two of my friends took off running for the nearest house.  These guys grabbed my paper bag, which ripped up the side, dumping all the candy on the ground.  They also took my friend Brad’s bag, and then they were gone.

Nobody was hurt, but we were mighty frightened.  We just walked back to our houses and that was the end of the night’s activity.  I think I told my mom what had happened, to which she offered some heart-felt but fatalistic condolences, and I went to bed.  The next day I went to where we had been attacked and found one little Bit-o-Honey, still in its wrapper, in the dust.  Brad had gone home and told his dad, who loaded him up in their car and drove to the crime scene, where they recovered some of what had been spilled in the attack.  I always felt that Brad’s dad must have loved him more than my dad loved me.  Silly, huh.

Over the years there have been parties at the schools to try to get the kids off the streets and out of harm’s way.  At least, that is the reason for the social activities in my own mind.  It was not so much about having a good time, because I never really had a very good time.  There were booths with grown up people acting like kids.  There were games and lots of sugary goodies, and I ate my share, but I never really felt satisfied by the result.

In Lewisville such a party was being held at the school, so I decided to go with a friend.  We walked everywhere, then.  As I was moving along the street I saw some 5th graders running towards us (we were in the fourth grade), clearly intending to make the night miserable for us.  We dashed off the road, cut through a neighbor’s yard and apple orchard, and managed to lose the attackers, while getting scratched by the branches and muddy when we slipped in the wet ditch.  I don’t think we ever got to the party.

Many years later some of the kids in our ward, mid-teen aged boys, would get in a pickup truck and ride around smashing pumpkins that people had put out on their porches or in their yards as decorations for the Halloween remembrance.  In a very unfortunate accident that night, one of the boys fell out of the back of the truck and broke his neck at about C-1.  He was rushed to the hospital, but he died anyway.  That capped my dislike of the celebrating.

My wife and I disagree about the value of the celebrating that goes on.  I decided that if we were going to give out junk to the little beggars, I would give out toothbrushes.  Often the parents would be standing back a little just out of the light from the porch.  Once in a while some little tyke would say, in disgust, “Toothbrushes!?”  The parents would say, “Yes!”  I sensed that there were others who liked the practice as little as I did.  My wife, however, would stand out there and pass out the little candy bars, for which she received glum mutterings of thanks. They act like it is a guaranteed right vouchsafed by the Constitution.

So to you who celebrate Halloween, all the best.  Tonight I will be sitting in my home with the porch light turned off.  We have not had trick-or-treaters for the past several years.  That suits me just fine, but clearly, I am in the minority.
Siegfried and Brunhilda

Monday, October 6, 2014

Autumn in Southern Idaho

I love the fall in Southern Idaho.  This is the time for football, World Series, colors in the mountains, harvest, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, cool nights, warm days, and General Conference.

BYU is not doing so well.  Taysom Hill is out for the season with a broken leg.  Utah State beat the Cougars at Provo for the first time since the Dark Ages.  Utah beat UCLA.  Boise State is not bad, but nothing to get excited about.  Baseball is in the league divisions playoffs. I am a National League fan.  I think pitchers should bat.  The leaves in the mountains are just beginning to turn colors, which is at least several days later than I remember from before our mission.  South Hills, Stanley Basin, and the Snake River Canyon are beautiful any time, but even more so this time of year.  The tomatoes are coming on well.  The deer have eaten much of the new growth on the tomato plants, which has actually helped them grow better fruit.  I wish the deer would go away, however.  We have not had a killing frost yet.  That will come soon.  The potatoes have been dug and are sitting in a big tub, waiting to be eaten.  I can't eat that many spuds.  I have some pretty carrots this year coming in colors other than the traditional orange variety.  They all taste the same, though.

We have had George and Sharon Peterson visiting us for a week.  They drove out from Ohio and came to see us first.  We went to the mountains, where it was rainy and cold, but also beautiful.  We also drove to Orem where we attended our first PRSJM reunion.  Pres and Sister Alvarado were there and it was great to see them.  We also enjoyed visiting with the young missionaries with whom we shared many experiences over 18 months in the Caribbean.  President told me that I did a good job as a missionary.  I was glad to hear him say that.

The best part is General Conference.  The messages were the right on point.  We are led by inspired men and women who have delivered the word and will of the Lord right into our home.  What a blessing to be living in a time when technology makes all this possible.  There were several messages that were very important instructions for how to live in the confused world of our day. I love Conference!
BASE jumpers going off the Perrine Bridge.  This guy is going into the water, on purpose!

Southeast of Twin Falls

Sunbeam Hot Springs by the Salmon River

Redfish Lake in Stanley Basin

Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley Idaho

Missionaries having fun

Still learning how to do a Selfie

Debbie's Special Pumpkin

Carrots from my garden

Gay and Sharon.  They think it is cold, at 55F.

Trees in South Hills near Twin Falls

In Stanley Basin

Chain-saw art

Near Redfish Lake

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Facebook and Party Lines

Logan Utah
Dad was working on a masters degree at Utah State and our family of five kids and two adults lived in the married student housing.  It was quite Spartan, with a bathroom in each unit but a common shower in a different building, near where everybody kept their washing machines:  the Dexter ringer machines, not the modern laundry center.  The Quonset we lived in also had a fridge, a two-burner hotplate, and a kitchen sink.  Mom would bake bread and cook Sunday dinner in a big roaster pan.  I actually thought every day was an adventure.  Often I would walk to my first grade classroom at the old Adams School, crossing the USU campus on my way.  Every day was an adventure.

We had no telephone.  In fact, I don’t think there were more than three families in the complex who did have a phone.  (We also had no TV.  For entertainment we would occasionally go to a drive-in movie, taking our own popcorn, of course.) Later on, after Dad finished his masters and we had moved to Lewisville, Idaho, where Dad was the principal and taught the sixth grade, we did get a telephone.  It was a party line, so whenever anybody on the line was being called, everybody on the line knew it.  Our number signal was one long and two short rings.  Somebody else might have two longs or two shorts.  Socially connected people on the line would know who was being called by the ring pattern in their own phone.  (There was only one phone in each house.  Usually the phone was near the kitchen.)

Some of the more socially connected neighbors would quietly pick up the phone and listen in on the conversation.  We became adept at discerning a slight difference in the static on the line when somebody was eavesdropping.  Then we would say, “Myrtle, please hang up and stop listening.”  A private line was a luxury for the wealthy, few of whom I was personally acquainted with.   As the systems developed and take-home pay increased, however, we were finally able to have a “private line”.  You would think we had reached the highest social stratum.  Nobody could listen in any more.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and social networks.  Now everybody wants to be on Facebook, “friends” with present and former acquaintances and family members and businesses, spending too many hours “listening in” on the lives of each other.  Isn’t it ironic!  Where the desired status was once to get a private line so nobody could listen, now we post everything about our lives on public bulletin boards where the whole world can listen in, often without our own awareness of what is taking place.

This is called progress. Every cell phone conversation is open to the whole world, and is probably being listened to by some government computer. I, and thousands of others, write a blog that is posted in front of the whole world.  I actually had several thousand hits on one of my blog entries  Are you kidding me?  What did I say that was that interesting?  What a mixed up world we live in!  Since it is not going away, maybe we should be more discreet in what we post on those bulletin boards.  But that would be boring.  Ahhhhhh!

1LT Patterson, Saipan