Monday, November 4, 2019

Absent For A Reason

You've no doubt noticed a paucity of posts on this page; for that, I apologize.

But there's a reason. Several, actually, but none more sobering than what I am about to share.

Our home, in which we've resided nearly a year now, has taken a lot of love and work to get it to where we want it, though we still aren't finished. Patience has truly been a virtue; however at times it seemed as though our projects might have been a little too much for us to handle.

Just getting it habitational last January was huge in itself. Our brick 1930 farm house, which had been the original dwelling for the surrounding acreage, had been empty for nearly two years. It had no heat, the water supply was negligible, yard and fields overgrown and strewn with any manner of trash and junk, much of the electrical system in dire need of rewiring....there was much to do.

To this point, we've done it. As I put this entry together, contractors are installing the exterior stove pipe for our coal stove, which will supplant propane as our primary heat source. The grounds are finally in the condition that I want, phase one of the landscaping is finished, the deck's been resurfaced and painted, all our vegetation has been trimmed and cleaned out, we've eliminated two low brick walls that held moisture against the foundation, the second bath upstairs is nearly finished, plumbing issues have been resolved...there's much more we've accomplished but I won't bore you with details.

Suffice it to say, we love our little slice of heaven south of the city, surrounded by corn fields and nature. It couldn't have been done without my red-headed angel of a wife, Stacy.

Later this week, Stacy will have her heart stopped so surgeons can repair it. I am scared to death.

Two years ago her physician informed us that she has a heart murmur, that it wasn't all that bad but he wanted to "keep an eye on it." Since then Stacy has been having irregular episodes of her heart pounding; not faster, just beating harder. She's also noticed that she sometimes gets winded easily.

We consulted with a cardiac specialist in Columbus, who ran another round of testing; the results were not what we wanted to hear. This specialist in turn passed Stacy on to one of his partners, whose specific skill is heart valve replacements. The bottom line is, he wants to repair the mitral valve, which controls blood flow from one chamber of the heart to another. Worst case scenario would involve replacing the troubled valve entirely.

As a result, she'll be placed on a heart/lung machine, during which time my angel's heart will stop working on its own while the problem is corrected, an evolution that may last in the ballpark of three hours.

It will be the absolute longest hours of my life. Please, if you talk to the Lord, ask Him to guide the surgeons' hands.

I cannot make it without her.


Monday, September 30, 2019

Overnight Rain Recalls A 37-Year-Old Memory

Having worked midnight shift for most of my career, I'm often up and around long before the rising sun colors the morning sky. This morning it was 0400; surprising, because most of yesterday was spent driving home from Easley, South Carolina after a 4-day visit with Mom, my sister Chris and brother Jim. I was exhausted, having began my Sunday at 0315; I also prefer driving during the very early morning, as there's no traffic to speak of and the all-night AM radio talk stations abound.

Drinking my usual cup of Tim Horton's black gold, I sat in my very comfortable old leather recliner, reading the bottom-of-the-screen running banner rather than hearing the talking heads on the twenty-four-hour news station that flickered on the TV screen; I keep the volume very low so as not to awaken my bride as she sleeps in our upstairs bedroom. The stillness was only broken by the soft snoring of my old pal Roscoe as he dozed on a blanket in Stacy's recliner.

It began to rain; it had been, off and on through the night, but this time the rain was a steady downpour, its volume heightened as it fell on the vast rows of corn that stand in the field across the road. I strolled out into the sun porch, where its north-facing, large window was partially opened, to better hear the rain's song as it fell on the orderly rows, the descending sheets visible in the light cast by a lone street lamp keeping silent vigil on the corner.

Standing and staring, coffee mug in hand, my mind's eye whisked me back to late spring of 1982, when I was but a young pup at Ontario PD, recalling a night very much akin to the scene just outside my window.

I had been at the State Patrol academy on 17th Street in Columbus, which sits directly across from the Ohio State Fairgrounds, attending a week-long course on traffic crash investigations. Believe me, there's nobody better at accident investigation than our State Highway Patrol and, as I weaved my white cruiser through the pre-rush hour traffic northbound on I-71, I wondered how I'd ever get to sleep when I got home an hour later; I was due in at midnight for my shift.

My rest was fitful, and a mere 90 minutes before the alarm went off at 2300 did I fall into 'true' sleep. Pat Benatar on Cleveland's WGCL jarred me awake, asking me to hit her with my best shot from my bedside clock-radio; I showered, shaved, dressed and crammed a couple of slices of turkey down my throat as I headed out the door a half hour later.

It was raining heavily.

Wonderful, I thought as I wheeled my cruiser into the rear lot of the old station/village hall on Park Avenue West. I'll have to remember to get my rain coat out of the trunk and also throw the waterproof cover on my eight-point hat.

No policeman ever, past or present, likes working in the rain.

I exchanged good-natured insults with the guys on the outgoing afternoon shift, read the radio log and checked my mailbox for messages as I downed a 12-ounce soft drink; finishing, I headed out to the cruiser and signed on the air in the steadily-falling rain with a simple "112, signal 2", wondering how I'd ever pass the time in the next eight hours. The rain would slacken traffic passing through the village which, at that time of night, had only Denny's Restaurant as an attraction, and I would be bored out of my mind.

How wrong I was.

At 0100 hours, a mere ten hours after successfully completing OSHP's accident investigation course, I was dispatched to a semi tractor-trailer versus car accident at the intersection of West Fourth Street and Rock Road.

It was a fatal accident, the very first I'd ever seen but, over the next three decades, far from the last.

As I slid to a stop on arrival, what I saw nearly overwhelmed the senses: the tractor trailer was just past the intersection, the rear end of the trailer blocking the westbound lane of Fourth. The car that was struck was twenty yards into a field on the northwest corner of the intersection, its back end sitting on the rear axle, as both rear wheels had been snapped off from the force of the commercial rig slamming into it as the car attempted to cross West Fourth in front of it. The right rear passenger area  of the car was crushed inward, two of its occupants milling aimlessly outside it, no doubt dazed by the impact. A female was screaming/wailing; Springfield Township fire and rescue apparatus, sirens blaring, rolled up, along with several firemen who arrived in personal vehicles, having responded directly to the scene from their homes. As I ran up to the car, mindless of the cursed rain and mud, a young female who'd been a passenger clutched my raincoat, screaming, "JIMMY'S NOT MOVING!"

The rain became torrential.

There had been four occupants of the car when the accident occurred, the crash resultant, I'd discover later, of the drunken teen driver's attempt at playing 'chicken' with the truck as it approached from the east. As the westbound commercial vehicle neared, the car's driver floored the accelerator and shot out in front of the truck, the rig's right front bumper striking the passenger side of the car just back of the door post.

'Jimmy', the sixteen-year-old right rear passenger who'd snuck out of his house after his parents had gone to bed, took a direct hit from the behemoth truck. He lay slumped to his left, a lone trickle of blood fleeing the corner of his mouth; aside from that, he looked as if he were merely asleep. Later examination by the coroner would find that he'd died of internal bleeding, caused by organ laceration when jagged broken ribs were driven inward by the force of impact.

One other passenger, if I recall correctly, suffered a broken hip.

The panting of Roscoe joining me on the sun porch broke that nightmarish memory and the events of the rest of that terrible, rainy night...

...and the thought that I would never again, for the rest of my days, be faced with similar horrors took its place.

For that, I thank God.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

All Seriousness Aside...

Sometimes you get to the point where you just don't want to think about current events and all the negativity that comes with them. That being the case, let's lighten things up...

There's a little shop here in Mansfield that serves specialty coffee and tea, along with baked goods, occasional live music and local art. It's called Relax, It's Just Coffee and is located on North Main Street. I've never been there, but the name got me to thinking about maybe opening my own little shop, with one caveat:

It's only clientele will be senior citizens. I'd call it 'Relax, It's Just Arthritis.' Our main offerings would be ibuprofen, ice packs and analgesic creams.

On our way back from Nashville/Lebanon/Murfreesboro, TN last Sunday, Stacy and I stopped at the Sunbury exit off I-71 to grab a bite to eat. As we made our way around to KFC, we saw two semi tractor-trailers parked behind the restaurant, marked 'ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball'. Voila! The Tribe is playing on ESPN right now and I'm bouncing between the Browns and the Indians on the tube. I must say, though, that I can barely tolerate SNB on ESPN; between the field mics being way too loud and an 'analyst' who never set foot on a professional baseball field popping off about what players are doing wrong, well....I'll only watch because it's the Indians. That would be like me critiquing an airline pilot on whose plane I was flying.

...and what's up with on-field halftime shows during seemingly every NFL primetime game? Last I really watched any No Fun League games, celebrity singers lip-synching songs only happened at the Super Bowl.

...and does anyone really care that alleged (innocent until proven guilty, unless you're a conservative) sexual predator Antonio Brown says he won't be playing in the NFL anymore? How will I ever sleep knowing that?

Stacy and I have been grandparents for nine months now. It is awesome. Our little granddaughter Mila is at that age where she's curious about everything and gets into anything. When I'm holding her while she consumes her bottle, she likes to reach up and grab Papaw's beard while watching Sesame Street (hey, whatever happened to Bert and Ernie?). Then there's moments like this:

Have a great night, everyone!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Is America Forgetting?

Never Forget.

Soon after Islamic terrorists hijacked planes loaded with passengers and flew them into both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as well as United flight 93, whose passengers fought back and caused their aircraft to crash in a field in southwest Pennsylvania, America took up that slogan.

It was on everything from billboards, t-shirts and coffee mugs to bumper stickers, key chains and magazine covers. Suddenly, divisiveness disappeared and all of America came together. Through our grief, we became stronger.

Today, eighteen years later, it seems a large segment of our society has forgotten.

Broadcast media memorializing September 11, 2001 and those lost on that terrible day varied from channel to channel; locally, one print media outlet posted two stories online connected to that day: one a hand-me-down from USA Today and the other dealing with 4th-graders making lunches for local police, fire and ems personnel.

Two stories, then it's move on to adopted cats and rescued deer.

It kind of feels like the line from Islamic Democratic Socialist Representative Ilhan Omar a few weeks ago: "Some people did something", referring to the sons of Satan who hijacked the planes and killed over 3,000 innocent civilians and civil servants.

Today's era of fragile feelings and micro-aggression makes people hesitant to mention the words 'Islamic' and 'terrorists', though in Omar's case, what she said was a premeditated slight to freedom-loving Americans.

As I drove through the county today, federal, state and municipal offices all had their flags lowered; sadly, very few private residences and businesses followed suit.

Where has out patriotism and remembrance of that horrible day gone? What happened to all the cars, and pickup  trucks especially, flying American flags as they traveled our roads and highways? Would today's 'look-at-me, I'm-offended' prima donna athletes dare to kneel during the playing of our national anthem eighteen years ago?

I think not.

The United States gravely needs to regain its unity and shed the hatred and profanity-laced name calling that is becoming prevalent in the 24-hour news cycle.

We need to do it NOW, without the terror-driven impetus of monsters flying planes into buildings.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Who's At Fault? The Police, Of Course...

In the last few weeks, liberal politicians aspiring to this nation's highest office have publicly renounced law enforcement for political gain.

Not surprising. In this day and age, it's almost expected.

A few years ago, Ferguson, Missouri became a flashpoint of unrest and rioting after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man. The predominant....and wrong...public perception, boosted along by media and television news talking heads, was that the victim had been trying to surrender and had his arms in the air; protesters, with their arms raised, chanted "hands up, don't shoot!" nightly on our television screens as Ferguson burned.

A St. Louis county grand jury, after hearing days of testimony from eyewitnesses to the incident and being presented with forensic evidence, later determined that Officer Darrin Wilson had acted in self-defense as Brown charged at him; the 6'04", 292-pound victim had initially attempted to take Wilson's service weapon as the two struggled inside the officer's cruiser. 

A separate federal grand jury later came to the same conclusion, yet left-leaning Dems seeking their party's nomination in next year's presidential election still espouse the 'hands up, don't shoot' narrative.

In recent days another, far less intense incident happened locally. A man, running for Mansfield City Council, was stopped for a traffic violation. During the course of officer contact the violator opened his vehicle's center console, whereupon the officer believed he observed the top slide of a semi-automatic handgun. The officer and his back-up both drew their service weapons, though they didn't point them at the driver. Cruiser video shows both policemen holding their guns at their sides, pointed downward.

The candidate was not taken into custody but was cited for driving while under suspension.

Since then, the council candidate has called for a public summit; in attendance will be the city's Chief of Police. Based on past personal experience, the police will be guilty in a large segment of the public's eye before the summit even starts; the local print media's parent company is already attempting to make the incident a national story.

If Michael Brown would have complied with Officer Wilson's instructions he would be alive today. Likewise, had the council candidate not chosen to drive an automobile while his license is suspended, I wouldn't be writing this post.

Personal responsibility for one's decisions and actions needs to make a comeback.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Evil Revealed

I wrote a few months ago about one of my earliest memories being the assassination of JFK. At the time I was too young to grasp the magnitude of the event or understand that it was a national tragedy. I didn't understand why my teacher cried when the President's assassination was announced over the public address system at Raemelton school.

I was just short of my seventh birthday.

Three years later I heard on the news about eight student nurses being murdered in one night by a guy named Richard Speck; he'd held them hostage in a dorm room after breaking in and then, one at a time, taken them into a hallway and stabbed them to death. Speck unknowingly left a witness, though; Filipino exchange student Corazon Amurao had hidden under a bed while another of the student nurses was being led out of the room. Amurao stayed there for seven hours and eventually testified during Speck's trial. He died in 1991 in prison, his death sentence having been commuted to 1200 years behind bars.

Even though I was only ten years old, that saga began my introduction to just how evil the world is.

Throughout my years until today, as I type this entry, evil has seized headlines at an ever-increasing frequency. Can't watch a newscast or pick up a newspaper without being assailed by man's brutality to man. Charles Manson's 'family' was responsible for the Tate/LaBianca murders in southern California. John Wayne Gacy raped, tortured and murdered thirty-three boys. Ted Bundy, whose actual name was Ted Cowell, confessed to raping and killing 30 women. Cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer raped, murdered, dismembered and ate sixteen young men and boys.

And then Islamic fundamentalists started flying commercial airliners into buildings.

Evil, though, doesn't really resonate until it touches you in some way, close to home, or until you see it for yourself. As a law enforcement officer you'll see it all too often.

A woman stabbed 31 times by her boyfriend early on Thanksgiving morning. Another shot in the back of the head as she exited her home by a jilted boyfriend. The brother of an acquaintance of mine shot and killed as he walked along West Fourth Street. A man found beaten to death with a bumper jack, in a field across from a bar where he'd been drinking the night before. A father shot and killed by his son as he sat in his living room over the killing of the son's dog. A son stabbing his mother repeatedly because he didn't like the man she was dating.

That's a small sampling of the evil I've witnessed. Even my wife's cousin, a local business owner, was found beaten to death several decades ago; a guy I grew up with went to prison for killing a man during a drug deal.

Evil has been around since Cain killed his brother Abel in the book of Genesis...and it has gotten worse through the ages.

All I can say is, God help us.


Friday, July 26, 2019

It Would Have Fallen On Deaf Ears

Ever have occasion to impart advice to someone who would benefit from it but you kept silent because you knew they wouldn't listen anyway?

That happened to me a few days ago as I was buying barn paint at a big-box home (barn?) improvement store.

I'd stepped up to the service desk in the paint department; apparently, six other folks had the same idea as I...take advantage of the beautiful, rain-free weather and paint something outside. The store had three people assisting customers at the desk, so I had to wait a bit. I wasn't about to leave without having this can of paint violently machine-shaken for three minutes to ensure its contents were well-mixed, as I had a week earlier with the first one. Mixing by hand in the garage for what seemed an eternity sucked. I probably needed another shave by the time I'd finished.

"Hey, I really like your shirt." This from one of the male employees behind the desk, a baby-faced, stocky young man with steel-rimmed glasses.

I'd just received a "I Stand For Freedom' t-shirt from Nine Line Apparel the day before and had donned it for the trip to the store.


This started a conversation between he and I; he owned several patriotic shirts from the same manufacturer. During our conversation the youngster mentioned that he was attending a police academy, mentioning names of some of his instructors. I knew a few of them, explaining to the young man that I'd spent three decades in law enforcement in this area.

His face lit up and I was peppered with questions; then he started talking about how he couldn't wait to start his career and that he thought he had an 'in' with a neighboring county's sheriff's office.

"I hope they put me in the detective bureau." His wide-eyed enthusiasm shined behind those spectacles as he took my can of red barn paint, secured it in the shaker and started the machine.

Inwardly I cringed. I didn't have the heart to burst his bubble, to explain that he'd have to work years in a cruiser, answering calls for service, and that he'd have to prove himself before being considered for such an assignment.

I also couldn't bring myself to recount some of the morbid, horrible things he'd be exposed to, the hardships he'd have to endure, the sometimes unimaginable scenes his eyes would see but his brain would not want to accept as real.

Memories kicked in. Seeing needless death for the first time outside of a funeral home, I'd answered a call at a farm in 1981; the middle-aged woman who'd called was worried because her husband hadn't returned from the barn after feeding his livestock. She was worried because he was supposed to see a doctor the next day and had convinced himself he had cancer.

I found him hanging from a rafter in his barn, rope knotted at his neck and an overturned, rickety wooden chair beneath his lifeless body. The morning sun had just peeked over the eastern horizon as I notified dispatched to have the coroner respond.

Then I had to walk back to the house and tell the distraught woman that her husband had taken his own life.

Presently the youngster turned the shaker off and set my barn paint on the counter; he obviously wanted to continue asking questions but others seeking assistance were standing in line behind me.

"It was very nice meeting you, sir. Any suggestions for me?"

I wanted to tell him what I'd been recalling. I wanted to tell him to learn how to drive a tractor-trailer or consider a career as a bricklayer or an educator. Be anything but a policeman. I didn't because I knew he'd shake that advice off, much as I would have decades ago if someone had suggested the same to me.

"Good luck."

I went home and gave both garage doors a second coat of that barn-red paint.