Tuesday, October 23, 2007


The past 10 days in Ohio have been for the most part unseasonably warm, and the leaves slow to change to their autumn hues.  But in the last three or four days we've been treated to a riot of color as the trees have finally begun to break into their rich golds and yellows; deep, almost purplish, reds; and my favorite of all, a shimmering color that's too soft to be red, yet too vibrant to be orange; I've decided it's God's Own Red, and it takes my breath away every time I see it.

Our Ohio place of residence was the Lock 30 Woodlands RV Resort, "officially" located in Lisbon but actually closer to tiny Elkton.  It may be the nicest campground we've ever stayed in, with all of the campsites forming a single-file ring around a huge partially wooded infield.  I'm a little too spoiled to declare it perfect, as we had only intermittent cell phone service and no cable TV, but there was WiFi, a spotless laundry, a game room with pool, foosball and arcade games, and a library.

And there was Blackjack.  When we first arrived, I was a little suspicious of the large black dog that wandered around the grounds.  Since campgrounds are usually very strict about dogs being on leash, I assumed that he must be a stray, or a wayward resident of some nearby farm.  But after observing him a couple of days, I noticed that he made rounds, visiting select campsites, hanging out for a brief period, then moving on.  One day as I left the laundry, he loped over towards me and began to follow me back towards our site.  Knowing that he might not be welcomed by our own pooch, Maggie Muggins, I turned to him and firmly said, "No.  You stay."  To  my amazement, he obeyed.

A few hours later, Greg and I were sitting outside with Maggie when the black dog, quietly and with bowed head, began pacing back and forth at the entrance to our site.  It was as if he were asking permission to visit.  What a polite dog (if a dog can be polite)!  We called to him; slowly and cautiously, he approached us.  But Maggie would have none of it!  She strained at the end of her chain, barking and growling, defending her little territory against this intruder.  So the black dog made a dignified retreat (if a dog can be dignified), as if to say, "I do not go where I am not wanted.  There are plenty of others who welcome me and I don't need to waste my time."

I was sorry for the snippy behavior of my pet, so I followed the dog until we were out of Maggie's sight, then called to him.  He immediately lay down and rolled over which, if you are a dog lover, you know is the dog's way of signifying that he's not a threat and doesn't consider you to be one either.  I petted the huge head and rubbed the belly and as he turned to face me, saw that he had only one eye.  "Poor old fellow," I thought, "what's your story?"  His collar said that he was Blackjack, and listed an address that looked familiar; perhaps the address of the campground itself.  Greg came over then, and the two of them had a brief visit, before Blackjack made off for the rest of his rounds.

Next day I was at the laundry when one of the workers drove up in a golf cart, and who should be her passenger, but Blackjack.  So I asked her about him, and was told that he was "sort of the campground dog."  As to the eye and the slight limp, I was told that in his younger days, Blackjack was an inveterate chaser of cars, who liked to pretend to bite at the tires.  But one winter day, the truck that he was chasing slid on a patch of ice, and Blackjack was hit.  Badly injured, he ran off into the woods -- to die, they thought, and though they searched and called, he was not to be found.  But two days later, Blackjack came back.  It took a while for him to mend from his injuries, and his blinded eye had to be removed, but he did recover, and his tire-biting days are long past.  Nowadays, Blackjack trots alongside certain vehicles, occasionally barking, noisily, happily, but always at a safe distance.

I suppose Blackjack's story is much like the story many of us could tell.  We engage ourselves in foolish pursuits, the possible negative consequences of which are so obvious to practically everyone but ourselves.  Sometimes we encounter suffering and pain -- and not necessarily of the physical kind.  The wisest among us learn from the experience.  But the wisdom is in two parts: one part is the specific lesson learned; one part is in the approach to the lesson.  Dogs have the right approach -- they may appear to possess human virtues such as politeness and dignity, but they are incapable of the bitterness and self-recrimination that we humans wallow in after a setback.  And they certainly are incapable of destructive wishful thinking -- you know, the one where you think over the bad situation and analyze it to determine the specific error that led to your injury, and then you spend lots of time wishing that you could continue your behavior unchanged except for that one outcome.  If Blackjack were human, he may have decided that the blame lay with the icy road conditions, rather than chasing cars!

But dogs aren't human -- thank goodness! -- they're dogs, and they live in the here and now, rather than in the what if and if only.  I've long suspected that God gave us dogs as examples of unconditional love, faith, loyalty, trust, living in the present and so much more; yet I know that God's lessons come through whatever "teacher" we are most in tune with.

I'd like to say that Maggie and Blackjack eventually became best buddies, but that's not what happened.  Oh, there was the time that Greg ducked inside the trailer to fill Maggie's water dish, and returned outside  to find that she'd somehow slipped her lead and was heading full-tilt toward -- you guessed it -- Blackjack.  We held our breaths as we watched the two dogs circle each other, sniffing at pawing at each other.  When we called to Maggie, Blackjack turned toward us with a grin (if a dog can grin) and then galloped right over to where we were standing, Maggie frisking right behind him.  When it was Frosty Paw (a frozen treat for dogs) time that night, we gave Maggie her treat, and Blackjack one too (he happily ate both the ice cream and the paper cup!).  After they'd had their little frolic that afternoon, and later had eaten their treats in companionable silence, Greg and I figured that Maggie had finally warmed to Blackjack.  But it was not to be.  She continued to snarl and snap whenever he offered to come on our site ... and he continued with his philosophical acceptance of her behavior.

Good-bye, ol' Blackjack, 'til next year!  You taught me a lot in a short period of time.  Good Boy!    

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pilgrimage to Cooperstown

It is the dream of every baseball fan to make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown, New York, the birthplace of baseball and home to its Hall Of Fame. Greg (a Mets fan) and I (a Red Sox fan) decided to fulfill that dream for ourselves today.

Baseball has been a part of my life since I can remember. My dad was a huge fan, and some of my fondest memories are of us watching baseball games called by players-turned-TV-commentators Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese. My grandfather was a fan, too; heck, he had a cat named Stan, after Stan "The Man" Musial. My brother evidently took after him, as he named our pet chow mix Roger Maris, just a couple of years after Maris beat Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. My mom got into the act, too, with an amazing trading card collection (that was unfortunately lost to us after my grandmother sold her home, leaving all of the contents of the attic to the new owner).

Young ladies did not play baseball when I was growing up. At least not formally! Thus, the DeSoto County (Arcadia, Florida) Little League was deprived of what would have been one of its most consistent hitters, in my best friend Nancy York, and one of its hardest throwers, in me. We contented ourselves with pick-up games in the vacant lot next to our house; Nancy routinely hit home runs and I was always called upon whenever one of the neighborhood boys needed to break in a new glove. In later years, after we both began teaching school, Nancy and I would catch as many "Grapefruit League" (Florida's spring training) games as we possibly could, sometimes even taking sick leave to do so! (I guess it's safe to reveal that now, since we're both retired!) Nancy's a Red Sox fan, too, so most of our trips were made to parks where the Sox were playing. I can even still recite the starting lineup for the 1979 team! Disappointed by the Sox's loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1967 World Series, disbelieving of the loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the '75 World Series, devastated by Bill Buckner's error that helped the New York Mets turn it around and beat the Sox in the '86 World Series ... I cried tears of joy when the Red Sox finally won the 2004 World Series over the Cardinals. I only wish my all-time favorite player, Carl Yastrzemski, could have been a player on that 2004 roster. Below is an exhibit that pays tribute to "Yaz" and the 1967 team. Hey, Carl, I finally made it, even if it is 18 years late ...

There's more to Cooperstown than just baseball, Greg and I discovered. There's also the Glimmerglass Opera that must be awesome, because it certainly has an impressive facility; The Farmers' Museum, with its carefully preserved buildings and demonstrations of farm life; The Fenimore Art Museum -- hey, I didn't realize that James Fenimore Cooper had ties to this area! I've never read any of his books, but now I'm inspired to do so. I'm sure we'll pay another visit here one of these years, because the area has a yesteryear charm that is disappearing from the American landscape. And Maggie Muggins seems to really love it here -- the Amish fellow who works at the KOA drives to work every day in his horse-drawn carriage, and Maggie is absolutely fascinated with that horse! 

Autumn In New England

We're headed toward Northern Ohio for Christmas In The Woods.

After the close of The Big E, I was so happy at the prospect of spending a few extra days in Massachusetts -- seems like my whole life I've heard about "Autumn in New England!" This year, autumn was a little different: extreme record-setting heat delayed the leaves' changing color. Despite the lack of color and the peculiar haze in the air (due to the unseasonal heat), the scenes were really beautiful.

The only activity we permitted ourselves during the last week was visiting with the good friends we've made in Western Massachusetts over the past few years. One evening I got the grand tour of the area from my friend Peggy. We drove through her hometown of Holyoke, and through Easthampton, Southampton (everywhere a Hampton, Hampton), and had a spectacular sunset dinner at Tavern On The Hill, in Easthampton. We talked and laughed for hours!

We also spent some time at Collins Tavern, which Greg and I had discovered on our very first trip to the area, five years ago. Collins caught Greg's eye as we were tooling around in a totally unfamiliar area, trying to find materials for our Big E display. "West Springfield's Best Kept Secret," he mused, "Looks like a friendly place. Let's stop in after we've finished our errands."

It was a little after lunch time when we got back to Collins. The menu, hand lettered on a dry-erase board, boasted items such as Sausage Grinder -- $2 ... Meatloaf Sandwich -- $1.75 ... Pot Roast Soup -- $1.75 ... and at the bottom of the board, the phrase I Can't Believe It Myself. I tried the soup, and I couldn't believe it, either. It was goood! We made several stops there before the fair, and on some nights, stopped in after the fair closed. It was a great refuge from the busy-ness of the fair, a great place to grab a bite of non-"fair food." And, gradually, we made friends. Over the years since, we've made even more.

At Collins everybody knows your name ... like "Cheers" of TV fame, without the dysfunction! On one of the front windows is painted the slogan, "You're a stranger but once" and it's the truth. Bob LeDoux, the hard-working but ever-smiling owner, is the soup chef and chief cook, and he genuinely likes to see people well-fed and happy. His daughter, Melissa Cauley, is another one of the hardest-working people I've ever known. Melissa's vision for Collins has brought a grill and fryer and some delicious new temptations on the menu, like the Philly Cheesesteak, sweet potato fries, and the oddly-named but delicious Buzzy's Big-Ass Kielbasa Sandwich, but the prices remain unbelievably low.

Here's a public "thank-you" to Melissa and her husband, John, for all they've given us over the years: storing our display set-up in their basement, accepting shipments of merchandise for us, finding interesting places for us to have dinner; most of all, smiles and encouragement and good friendship. And thanks to Bob for the gorgeous jacket, embroidered with a Collins Tavern logo, that he gave to Greg. Hey, Bob, you wondered if Greg would ever be able to use a heavy lined windbreaker down in Florida -- you gave it to him less than a week ago, and he's already wearing it here in New York! What a perfectly well-timed gift! I Can't Believe It Myself!