What I did on my summer vacation

We took a mini-vacation this week and rented a cabin in a state park for two nights. The weather was good, the scenery was awesome, and the opportunity to relax (even for three days) was good.

The drive up to the park and cabin was a bit grueling, a two-lane road with many hairpin turns. To my great relief, it was not raining and there was not much other traffic. Our cabin was ready when we arrived, so we were able to unpack and put food into the refrigerator right away. Then we set out on the Summit Trail, a one-mile loop up and down the side of the mountain. That went so well that we decided to try the Bench Trail next, a four-mile excursion around the mountain. While the Summit Trail went right past our cabin, the trailhead for the Bench Trail was about half a mile from the cabin. We thought it would be silly to drive the car half a mile in order to take a hike, so our total walking for the afternoon was six miles.

There’s one thing they don’t tell you about hiking in state parks. Not only does your lower body get a good workout on a hike, but brushing away spiderwebs and swatting away flies and other insects provides an upper body workout as well. We were accompanied by buzzing insects pretty much every step of the way. We also saw some beautiful butterflies, lizards, chipmunks, rabbits, and a fair number of deer. We spoke with other people at the park who had seen a rattlesnake and a bear. While we were there we heard cicadas, treefrogs, and songbirds, as well as blue jays and crows. One afternoon we sat on the porch of our cabin and watched a thunderstorm travel along a valley some miles away.

We brought food for our breakfasts and suppers, but we had our lunches in the town at the foot of the mountain. We discovered a wonderful Mexican restaurant, as well as an interesting shop that sold anything from tableware to lawn decorations. The town’s Front Street along the river had a sad number of empty stores, and the riverfront park itself was unexciting, but the town seems to be doing well. We were told more than once that it was good we had come during the week and not for the weekend, when the town would be filled with visitors for an annual festival.

All that hiking, especially the first afternoon, led to some tired muscles and early bedtimes. In fact my legs are still a little sore this afternoon. It was good to break the routine (although you can be sure that I brought along some leisure reading!). More than a century ago, we would not have been able to visit this location—it was a resort owned and shared by a few very wealthy families, not open to the general public. National parks and state parks are a wonderful resource. Even though our cabin cost a lot more than a motel room would have cost, we are glad that our dollars are helping to support the state park system. J.

Advertisements

Seven classic novels for children

I’ve been buried in words the last several weeks, as I have engaged in a host of literary tasks. First, I am copy-editing and tweaking my book on Revelation, with the hope of sending it to the publisher in a week or two. Second, I’ve been quickly reading a book about the Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday) to which I’ve been asked to write a response. Third, I’m still enjoying First on the Moon as I celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo XI mission. Add to that my regular reading from the Bible and devotional material (I will finish Jerome on Monday—yea!), and have started reading Steinbeck’s novels, and am catching up on a stack of books I’ve acquired over the years without bothering to read them until now. On top of that, I chose this summer to revisit some old friends from my childhood.

In the family library downstairs I have my reading chair. Just behind the chair, on one of the corner shelves, are two rows of children’s books—some were bought for my children, but most have belonged to me when I was young. Working my way through Jerome and Steinbeck, I’d see these books out of the corner of my eye. Seven particular books are old friends, books that I would read and enjoy every summer when I was a boy. Finally, I couldn’t resist the temptation—I grabbed one of the seven and added it to my daily reading schedule.

In no particular order, here are my seven old friends.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass: Mathematician Charles Dodgson created amusing tales for his friend and neighbor, Alice Liddell, and her sisters. Using the name Lewis Carroll, he published these stories to share with the world. Starring Alice, the two stories follow a little girl on two amazing journeys, one down a rabbit tunnel where she meets a variety of interesting characters, many of whom are members of a deck of cards. The second takes here through a mirror where she joins a chess game as a pawn, eventually crossing the board and becoming a queen, also meeting a variety of interesting characters along the way. In both stories, Dodgson (or Carroll) intersperses plot with poetry, sometimes with nonsense poems and sometimes with satires upon classic children’s poetry. He also blends in simple logic puzzles and other signs of his brilliant mathematical mind.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Journalist Samuel Clemens also took on a pen name, calling himself Mark Twain as he wrote amusing stories to appear in journals and in books. His childhood memories that he blended into the character of Tom Sawyer and his friends are among his most remembered and beloved stories. Tom is a lively rascal, flitting from one adventure to another, but getting involved unintentionally in some of the greater drama of his community. Much of Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, is dedicated to his memory; I recommend a visit there during summer travels.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: More than a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn tells the story of a lost boy, son of the town drunk, who eventually takes a raft down the Mississippi River in the company of an escaping slave. Without straying from plot and adventure, the book also wrestles with the problems of race, slavery, and human nature in general. One episode, set in an unnamed Arkansas riverside city (probably Napoleon) has the two travelers who have joined Huck and Jim swindle an entire city of naïve citizens. Tom Sawyer makes an appearance toward the end of the book, but he’s not the same carefree boy of his own novel. Instead, he builds an intricate web of intrigue to rescue Jim from confinement, even though Tom knows all along that Jim has already been freed by his owner.

Heidi: Johanna Spyri describes a young Swiss orphan who is left to her grandfather, a recluse living high on a mountain. The title character brings life and joy to all the neighborhood, but suddenly she is snatched away to be the companion of a crippled girl (probably a polio victim, although the book does not say) in Frankfurt. Heidi is miserable in the city, but she continues to bring life and joy to others. Along the way she is introduced to Christian piety by Klara’s grandmother, who teaches Heidi to pray and to trust the Good Lord. Heidi does as she is told, is whisked back to her grandfather on the mountaintop, once again brings life and joy to her neighbors, and does the same for her newer friends when they visit from Frankfurt. If you have only seen the Shirley Temple movie based on this book, you must read the book for yourself.

The Wizard of Oz: Frank Baum created a story which may or may not be an allegory of American politics. Dorothy Gale lives on a farm with her uncle and aunt and her little dog Toto, until one day a tornado lifts her and Toto to the land of Oz. There, she must travel to the capital city to see if the wizard can return her to Kansas. Along the way she is joined by a scarecrow seeking brains, a tin man needing a heart, and a lion wanting courage. To earn what they seek, they must kill the Wicked Witch of the West. The movie version, starring Judy Garland, omits many of the interesting events in the book; and the movie destroys the story with its resolution of “it was all a dream.”

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew: This story was written by Margaret Sidney. Three boys and two girls are being raised by their mother in poverty, but for the most part they are happy in spite of their lack of material comforts. About with the measles tests the family’s endurance, but afterward they cross paths with a rich family that dotes on the Peppers and mentors them. Unspoiled by their taste of wealth, the Peppers (like Heidi) continue to bring blessings into the lives of those near them. Even though I read the book every summer, my favorite chapters relate the family’s effort to celebrate Christmas in spite of their poverty.

Treasure Island: Robert Louis Stevenson begins his adventure with the son of an innkeeper. One of the inn’s residents is a retired pirate, now in hiding. When the pirate dies, his treasure map falls into the hands of the innkeeper’s son, just ahead of the effort of the other pirates to recover the map. Two wealthy gentlemen join with the son to sail to the island and find the buried treasure. Unfortunately, much of the crew that they hire as sailors consists of former pirates seeking the same treasure. Jim—the innkeepers’ son and now a cabin-boy, happens always to be in the right place at the right time to learn the plans of the pirates, led by the one-legged Long John Silver, and to foil those plans.

This is just some of the classic literature I am enjoying this summer. J.

A Tale of Two Cars

For fifteen years I owned and drove a used Ford Escort. It was nothing fancy, just a common Ford to carry me home. But last fall I sold the Escort and bought a used Honda Accord. It seemed like a fitting car—after all, the book of Acts reports that the apostles were in one Accord. (There are Sundays that the entire gathering at the church I attend could fit in that one Accord.) Oddly, two of my daughters have also bought used Accords, so now the driveway contains three Accords rather than one Accord. I’m not even sure what that means.

When I had owned the Escort for about five years, the air conditioner began to fail intermittently. When it finally stopped working for good, I had a mechanic at the shop examine it. The mechanic reported that the failure was in a relay switch that was supposed to divert power from the air conditioner when I needed to accelerate. The switch had frozen in the “divert” position, so the air conditioner was receiving no power from the engine. A relay switch is extremely inexpensive, but this switch was embedded in a part which would cost $350 to replace. At the time I was willing to pay $350 for necessary maintenance, but finances were too tight to spend $350 on mere comfort. For the next ten summers, I drove with the window open even on the hottest of days.

Then I test-drove the Accord and decided to buy it. The day I paid for the car and drove it home, the car lot workers had left it running with the air conditioner blowing to the point that the gas tank was almost empty. The interior of the car was cooled. It seemed that the air conditioner worked fine.

But as the temperatures rose this spring, it seemed that the air conditioner in my Accord no longer worked. It blew hot air instead of cold, and it made odd noises when I tried to run it. I ignored the problem for a while—I was used to driving with the window open—but when I had the oil changed last weekend, I paid a little extra and asked the mechanic to check the air conditioner as well.

The mechanic reported that the air compressor was not working at all. He could replace the compressor for a few hundred dollars, but the company recommended replacing two other parts at the same time. In fact, they would not warranty the compressor if they did not replace the other parts. I told the mechanic I’d come back about midweek for the repair. That gave me time to think about whether I wanted to risk replacing only the compressor or wanted the full repair done.

Wednesday morning I brought the car to the mechanic and left it in his shop. He had it all day, with instructions to do the complete repair. It turned out that the compressor had failed because one of those other parts had disintegrated, so I wouldn’t have gotten by with replacing only the compressor.

The irony is that I went ten summers without air conditioning in my Escort because I wouldn’t spend $350, but I ended up spending several times that amount of money to have a working air conditioner in my Accord. That pair of decisions strikes me as a little strange, but so it goes. J.

The fading and disappearance of Aurora

I miss Aurora.

This is not the post I wanted to write today. The Bilderberg Meeting was held in Switzerland a few weeks ago, and they discussed several interesting topics that I want to address. There are also some theological issues upon which I wish to comment. And I can share some childhood memories of summer days and activities. My writing has been lagging lately—maybe it’s the summer doldrums—I cannot even motivate myself to complete the first draft of my book about Revelation—I still have two chapters to cover before I’m done.

But last night, lying in bed, waiting for sleep to come, the feeling washed over me like a wave. And when I woke this morning, the same feeling was still with me.

I really miss Aurora.

I don’t know her real name, and she doesn’t know mine. We met as WordPress bloggers; we followed each other and liked each other’s posts and commented on each other’s blogs. Ostensibly, her blog was about “adventures in singleness and misadventures in dating,” but she also wrote about Christian faith, her church, her family and friends, and her job. She was dissatisfied with the later, and in the last year of her blogging she described leaving that job and setting out on a whole new career.

Our attraction was not romantic. Aside from a significant difference in age, there are other important barriers that would not have allowed any romantic attachment. I felt no jealousy as she wrote about the men she met and dated. In fact, I took on a brotherly interest and concern over some of her “misadventures.” She began blogging when her fiancé canceled their wedding after most of the plans had been made; she endured a mental health crisis, and blogging was part of her journey back to health. Along the way she encountered some men who were kind and supportive and others who were not. From August 2014 to October 2017, her online presence was meaningful to me—sometimes humorous, sometimes melancholy, but always interesting and inspirational.

Because our minds ran in similar fashions, we connected online. She noticed and appreciated the quips and subtleties in my posts that apparently went past most readers. She expressed awareness of the ironies of life and of the elegant awkwardness of the English language. We didn’t agree on everything—what two people always agree?—but we saw many things the same way, and we understood each other most of the time.

I’m not the only person to regret her disappearance. Bitter Ben commented months ago about those blogging friends who suddenly disappear. It’s part of life: people move on to new things. They develop other interests and they stop blogging. Social media is not the most important thing in their lives, nor should it be. But when people like Aurora disappear, it leaves a hole, and sometimes that hole cannot be filled.

I understand. Her last post was about the Friday morning that her boyfriend came to her apartment and cooked her breakfast. He left a poem and a note for her. The post was tagged “engagement” and “marriage.” I get it. Her singleness, and her misadventures in dating, were over. But I wish there could have been more of a farewell. More than that, I wish that she had directed her readers to a new blog where we could stay in touch, keep up with her changing life, and continue to share concern and support for one another.

Aurora and I agreed that, in the new creation, there will be a place where Christian WordPress bloggers will gather to meet one another face to face, to remember the fun times we had together online, and to enjoy one another’s company as we experience the ongoing, eternal celebration of the Lord’s victory over all evil. I look forward to seeing her on that Day. Meanwhile, I hope and pray that things are going well for her in her relationship, in her career, in her faith, and in her life.

Dear Aurora, I know you’re out there somewhere. God’s blessings to you in all that you are doing. And if there is some way we can reconnect, just to be online friends and mutual support, please let me know. J.

What about it, readers? What would you like to see next from Salvageable? Are you interested in world politics and the topics discussed at the Bilderberg meeting? Would you prefer theological topics—perhaps some insights gained while writing about the book of Revelation? Or are you most curious about his childhood experiences of summertime and those memories? Let me know!

There ain’t no cure for the summertime blackouts

A powerful storm ripped through this part of the state Wednesday night, providing lightning and thunder, rain, and straight-line wind gusts up to seventy miles an hour. No significant damage happened on my property—just a lot of leaves and small branches to gather and bag. But two stately oaks in the neighborhood were shattered by the winds, one bringing down a power line, as was happening in multiple locations across the region.

The lightning was so profuse when the power went out that I was able to find my way through the house to candles and matches and a flashlight. With the air conditioner disabled, we opened windows for ventilation and went to bed. The power was still off Thursday morning, so I showered and dressed, ate two breakfast bars, drank a cold cup of coffee, and drove to work.

When I returned home that afternoon, my youngest daughter greeted me with a grumble—“Seventeen hours and forty-two minutes, and they still haven’t gotten it fixed!” It happened that her complaint was voiced roughly half-way through our outage. I told her what I had heard on the radio, about the thousands of people without power. When it was time, I drove to the campus where I teach evening classes, unsure if the campus was open, since they had no way to reach me if the power was out and the campus was closed. There were cars in the parking lot when I arrived, though, and the power was on, and students arrived.  So I taught, returned home, read by candlelight for a while, and went to bed.

Sleep was not hard Wednesday night, because the storm had cooled the air and there were still breezes stirring. Thursday night the house was hot, the air outside was hot and humid, there was very little breeze, and of course no electric fan would work. The power was draining from my daughter’s phone, so she went out and sat in the car and recharged it there. I went to bed early but slumbered fitfully through the night.

Friday morning’s shower almost seemed to have been pointless, as I was coated with sweat almost immediately after toweling myself dry from the shower. But I got dressed, grabbed two breakfast bars, and left early for work, buying a hot cup of coffee downtown. Before lunch, I received by text the single word “power,” and by the time I was home that afternoon, the air conditioner had made the house more comfortable in terms of heat and humidity. (I responded “yea” to the text “power”—my daughter, more creatively, answered the same text “to the people.”)

Today, as chain saws roar through the neighborhood, we are doing triage on food that was left in the refrigerator and freezer through the outage. One of my coworkers asked me Thursday if we had transferred any food to ice chests, and I said, no, we were simply keeping the doors of the refrigerator and freezer closed. He said, “I suppose for a while that makes them ice chests,” with which I agreed. The icemaker was leaking water by Thursday afternoon, but we just put a towel on the floor. Once power was restored, we emptied the remaining ice and water from the icemaker and set it to make new ice. So far we have discarded the softer dairy items—the cheeses appear to have survived unscathed. We are also discarding older leftovers.

I did eat some leftover tuna casserole for supper last night, reasoning that “what does not kill me makes me stronger.” Before going to bed, I remarked that I did not feel any stronger and would probably die during the night, but of course that did not happen. Actually, when it comes to food poisoning, it rarely kills people and never makes them stronger. I have suffered from salmonella twice—both because of public salad bars, never from my own kitchen. It did not kill me, but it did not make me stronger.

We have not had time to examine everything in the freezer, but it appears that the meat remained frozen through all those hours. Some ice cream bars lost their shape, but they refroze and are edible. We did have a little uncooked pork and bacon in the refrigerator that we have discarded, but fortunately our frequent supply of ground beef and of raw chicken had been cooked and eaten before the outage.

All in all, I would say that we survived the blackout admirably. My stress level listening to chain saws all day today may prove to be the highest cost of the experience. J.

Is it me or is it him?

Everyone who thinks about God and talks about God is a theologian. Everyone who thinks and talks about what is good and what is true and what is beautiful is a philosopher. Everyone who looks at the created world and strives to understand some part of creation is a scientist.

But some theologians and philosophers and scientists are amateurs, while others are professionals.

In the sports world, the distinction between amateurs and professionals is whether they are paid. Amateurs may accept no money for their performances, but professionals are paid to perform. The distinction in other fields is not so clear. Some very amateur theologians and philosophers and scientists are paid well for what they write, while some very professional people in the same fields go unpaid.

One difference between amateurs and professionals is their awareness of what others in the field have written and said. They have read and thought about the writings considered important in that field. The professional does not need to agree with all that the leaders in the field have written. A biologist does not have to agree with Charles Darwin. (Most don’t.) A psychologist does not have to agree with Sigmund Freud. (Most don’t.) But, as professionals, they are aware of what these past masters have proclaimed, and they are able to relate the thoughts of the past masters to their own work.

A second difference between amateurs and professionals is their careful use of words. They are not sloppy in defining terms; they generally use the same words with the same meanings as those who have been professionals in that field in the past. If it is necessary to coin a new word, or to give a new meaning to a standard word, professionals carefully define their terms so readers will not be confused by the new or changed term.

A third mark of professionals is clarity in communication. They do not ramble and wander about their field, but they explain their ideas in a way most adults can understand. The most brilliant mind is useless if its owner cannot speak and write clearly. When a speaker leaves audience members saying, “That is one smart person. I didn’t understand what was being said, but it sure sounded smart,” the speaker has failed as a professional. Audience members who heard a professional speaker say, “I never thought of that before,” or, “I really learned something today,” or, “That’s the first time I ever understood that idea.”

More distinctions could be found, such as sufficient confidence in one’s own ideas to be willing to hear and discuss contrary ideas, and the ability to debate without resorting to insults and condescending language. But those three are enough to lead into my title of, “Is it him or is it me?” If I am reading a famous book written by an acknowledged master in the field, and I am not understanding what I read, does the fault lie with me or with the writer?

I usually begin by assuming that, if I do not understand, the failure is mine. The writer would not be widely regarded as a professional if no one else understands what he or she was saying. On the other hand, I remember a professor in college saying of Immanuel Kant that Kant took great leaps in logic that lesser mortals were not always able to follow. At the time, I took the philosophy professor’s description at face value. But increasingly I wonder if the professor was warning us that Kant was not exactly professional, that his leaps of logic may be, in fact, holes in his system of thought.

This month I’ve been reading Gregory of Nyssa, a theologian of the fourth century, and I have found the reading discouraging. It seems that Gregory wanders and rambles, repeats himself, and does not communicate clearly. Therefore, I ask myself, “Is it him or is it me?” Or—a third possibility—is this just a bad translation? I have flipped ahead in the book and found shorter essays that may be more focused and professional. The first half of the book consists of a rebuttal to an Arian theologian named Eunomias. Maybe Gregory’s writing will be clearer when he deals directly with theological matters.

In fact, Gregory himself has given me that hope. Last night I read, “But I must hasten on, for I see that my treatise has already extended beyond bounds, and I fear that I may be thought garrulous and inordinate in my talk, if I prolong my answer to excess, although I have intentionally passed by many parts of my adversary’s treatise, that my argument might not be spun out to many myriads of words. For to the more studious even the want of conciseness gives an occasion for disparagement; but as for those whose mind looks not to what is of use, but to the fancy of those who are idle and not in earnest, their wish and prayer is to get over as much of the journey as they can in a few steps.”

In other words, this time it’s him. J.

Vinegar and floodwater

The river is rising, and more rain is coming.

I work downtown, a short stroll from the river, and the thing to do these days is to take that stroll at lunchtime and stare at the muddy water as it streams past. Levees have given way upstream, and even local neighborhoods have been evacuated. Record flooding is happening all over the place. I saw my first record-breaking flood the month I turned ten, and witnessed several similar floods over the years, which is why my childhood home was bought by the government and leveled.

I remember carrying things out of the basement when I was a child to rescue them from coming floods. I didn’t think I would be doing that again, certainly not at work. But last Wednesday the building managers had a series of worried meetings as they considered the worst-case scenario for this flood event. The building is protected by a rarely-needed sump pump. The pump had not even been checked for several years. Management hired some specialists to check the pump on Friday, but meanwhile they also considered the option that a power failure might occur over the weekend, rendering the pump powerless. So, management decided to have all the employees drop what we were doing and carry things up out of the basement.

Several different entities are in the building—some related to one another, others merely renting space. Tenants include branches of the state university, attorneys, and even a vegetarian restaurant. The building itself is part of the public library system; it contains the library’s archives, the library’s art collection (aside from objects currently on display in other library buildings), art galleries (one of which sells locally-created art), and several other library departments. The basement contained (until the end of last week) storage for the art collection and for the archival items received but not yet processed. In other words, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind items (some quite valuable) were threatened by the flood. It made sense to bring it all upstairs.

People sometimes donate unique items to the library, which is why it maintains an archive. In the library’s archives are family records and photo albums, business records, church records, government records, and the like. The library owns letters and diaries written by soldiers during the Civil War. It holds Red Cross records, Garden Club records, school records, and thousands of photographs from earlier times. People use the library’s archives to study the history of railroads, the local fire department, historic people buried in local cemeteries, and their own families. People come to learn the history of the house where they live or of a business building they are remodeling. Not all this information was threatened by the flood—the material that has been processed is safely stored higher in the building. But who can say what information is hiding in the material not yet processed? Not to mention the art collection—it all had to be moved.

The research room is open nine hours a day, six days a week. Junior high students and university professors might be working within touching distance on their different projects. Books have been published based on information available only in this building. Many of the people who come—roughly half of them I would guess—are researching their genealogy. And, because there is a restaurant on the first floor, researchers and librarians sometimes smell the food being prepared. One day last week, the restaurant workers were roasting garlic—the scent reminded me of my mother’s zucchini recipe, fried in a skillet with garlic and herbs and a little vegetable oil. Other days the research room smells of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.

This morning the research room smelled like Harvard beets. Those are beets cooked in vinegar. This time the restaurant was not to blame. Among the items brought up from the basement are several canisters of film. Old film made of cellulose acetate plastic can chemically disintegrate, and the most obvious symptom of that disintegration is a vinegary scent. The library has one full-time employee whose task is to convert older records, whether audio or video, into a digital format before the original is lost beyond hope of recovery. These donated films are now sitting up on the third floor, undergoing chemical change, and the scent wafts down the atrium into other parts of the building.

The river continues to rise. No one knows how many days the library’s art collection will be sitting in hallways and meeting rooms and nooks and crannies all over the building. No one knows how many days the unprocessed archives will continue to form a maze between offices. A potential catastrophe has been averted, but it was done through many hours of hard labor and with no small inconvenience to the library’s staff. J.

Turning into my parents

An insurance company advertises that they can save you money, but they can’t keep you from turning into your parents. I guess all of us become more like our parents as we age, no matter how often we told ourselves as children that we would never say or do certain things that our parents said and did.

The other day I was preparing to mow the lawn and the mail carrier said, “Looks like someone is getting ready to have some fun.” I laughed and told her, “No, but it has to be done.” Instantly I remember how many times my mother and my father said the same thing about lawn and garden work or about housework: “It has to be done.” I felt at times that they were committing themselves and their children to a lot of chores that really didn’t have to be done. Pulling weeds was never my favorite summertime activity. But they justified their own efforts—and the efforts they demanded of their children—with that simple slogan, “It has to be done.”

Both my parents grew up during the Great Depression. There were probably a lot of things that “had to be done” in those days, from growing their own vegetables to taking small jobs to earn a few coins to help support the family. Then they had the wartime years, where certain things “had to be done,” such as going without food to help feed the soldiers and collecting scrap metal and rubber for recycling as part of the war effort. Many of their peers settled into more comfortable lives in the Fifties and Sixties; but for my parents, life remained full of chores and duties that had to be done.

I wrote an essay in college about my parents’ “work ethic,” saying that I hoped I would not be as duty-driven as an adult. Some years I have succeeded in living up to my college dream, treating the things I do at my job as things I get to do, not things I have to do. At home I try to reduce the work that has to be done—as I’ve written before, one hour of lawn work a week is enough, in my opinion. My children have had chores, but they were meant to teach them life skills, not as something that “had to be done.”

To my surprise, that slogan of my parents came out of my mouth as naturally as if I invented it myself. “It has to be done.” The grass has to be mowed. The city will fine me if my lawn exceeds a certain height, and given all the rain we’ve had lately and all the rain in the forecast, there was only a window of a day or two open to get the grass cut.

What things do you say or do that you learned from your parents? J.

Le Morte de Beau

Bo

The Salvageable family lost a faithful companion this week.

Bo joined us eleven years ago when one of my coworkers needed to find a new home for her cat because of her daughter’s allergies. The cat was about five years old at the time. They had obtained him from an animal shelter which had already named him Bo; my family wasn’t excited about the name, but the cat was already used to it. To give him a little more dignity, we often spelled it Beau.

When he joined the family, he wasn’t interested in curling up on a lap. He preferred to be pet while standing on or near a lap. As he grew older, he became more of a lap cat. I found that he liked to be cuddled, held upside down like a human baby while I stroked his head and face. It seemed to me that he was reliving kittenhood, remembering being washed by his mother, so sometimes while cuddling him I would say to him, in my best James Earl Jones voice, “Bo, I am your mother.”

Bo also enjoyed supervising food preparation in the kitchen. He had a favorite stool from which he could supervise the chopping of vegetables and other states in putting together a meal. He loved the smell of cooking meat. He also associated the sound of the can opener with juice drained from canned tuna, which he was allowed to drink from a bowl. Even if he was napping, the noise of the can opener would rouse him and call him to the kitchen. The cook would usually let Bo smell the lid of the can if its contents were not tuna, just to let him know he was not missing anything good.

Bo sometimes would get excited and energetic and would tear around the house. He especially loved high places—the tops of bookshelves, the piano, the china cabinet, and the grandfather clock. He would even curl up and sleep in some of those places.

He liked being part of a large family. Some of his favorite moments involved sitting in the living room while several people carried on a conversation. When only one or two people were in the house, he would sometimes wander from room to room, crying plaintively. He came to like the sound of his own voice; he identified the areas in the house with the best echoes and lectured loudly in those places.

October 2012 brought the Mayan apocalypse to the Salvageable family. Cars were breaking down right and left, the computer crashed, followed shortly by the printer, a favorite co-worker left for a different job, and Bo added to the turmoil early in November. When my daughters were leaving early in the morning for a dance competition, Bo managed to slip outside. I didn’t miss him until suppertime, when I tore apart the house looking for him and also searched outside. When the rest of the family returned that night, the search was repeated, but with no success. We went to bed tearfully. The next morning he was found under the backyard deck of a neighbor’s house. He seemed no worse for the experience, and we were glad and relieved to have him back.

Bo had chronic respiratory problems, probably allergies. We sometimes wondered if he was allergic to himself. While he was capable of a genuine purr, more often he showed his contentment through heavy breathing. In November 2017 Bo had a sudden loss of balance which likely was due to a stroke. He was unable to walk for a couple of days, then gradually regained his equilibrium, but he was never the same after that. He would often tilt his head when looking at people, which I suspect was compensation for double vision. The last eighteen months have been, for the family, a bonus time with Bo, because we realize that we could have lost him when he had that stroke.

This spring his health began to deteriorate. His breathing troubles increased, and he began to lose weight. The veterinarian gave him antibiotics and steroid shots, and we spent money on high-calorie cat foods, as well as supplementing his diet with meat from our table. He still ate, but his body apparently lost the ability to nourish itself from food. Day by day his strength diminished. We did our best to make him comfortable. Like an old soldier, Bo faded away, until he breathed his last Thursday morning.

The Bible is unclear about whether we will be reunited with our pets. There will be animals in the new creation: “The wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.” The only mention of the soul of animals is found in Ecclesiastes, where Solomon says, “Who knows?” Previous generations of Christian teachers insisted that animals had no souls, and therefore had no afterlife. More recent teachers have said, “You will be happy in heaven; so if you need your pets to be happy, they will be there.” I am inclined to believe that animals who have had a close relationship with believers have gained enough soul from that relationship to be reunited in the new creation. We will find out when we get there. Maybe not, but possibly, Bo is waiting for that reunion as he used to wait for his people to come home. J.

cat at door