Memories of Photographs

Creativity takes many forms. In addition to writing, I enjoy photography. I am fortunate enough to be able to use a digital camera, so I can take as many photos as I like without having to pay for processing the ones that don’t come out. My father, from whom I undoubtedly get my love of the hobby, never made it into the digital age. (I think he would have enjoyed using a camera that allowed him to see his pictures as soon as they were taken.) He did, however, have a beloved 35mm Ricoh that he took everywhere. He preferred slides, and I have literally hundreds of slides that he took.

My dad had all the gear, and he knew how to use it well. He juggled the camera, a separate light meter, and a separate flash. I loved that flash. It had a reflector that spread out like a fan behind it, and closed up when you weren’t using it. It had to removed from small, curious hands more than once during my childhood. He had a big leather case he kept all of it in, too, along with spare metal canisters of film (plastic canisters in later years), cleaning tissues, and anything else he thought he might need. Dad’s camera bag was always fun to rummage through. (I’m not sure he felt the same as I did about having me go through it.)

Dad would shoot a roll of film and then take it in to the store, which in turn would send it away to get it developed. (You could send them in the mail to be developed, too. I sent rolls from my little Brownie camera to Jackrabbit for developing. It was always exciting to get them back!) Then, when the developed slides came back, out would come the projector and silvery screen, the curtains would be drawn, and we would look at slides. Usually, older slides would come out, too, and memories would flow. Slide viewing was a family event. For all of the convenience of digital photos, viewing them is a solitary thing. I miss the discussions and memories that went along with looking at slides as a family.

There were favorite slides, of course. My favorites were the oldest ones, especially from before I was born, probably because it made a time when I did not yet exist more real. There was one slide that always gave me a delicious shiver, because my parents said it had a ghost in it. There was, indeed, a large white shape on the river bank in photo – a white shape that my parents swore hadn’t been there when they took the picture. Frankly, it looks like a sheet blowing in the wind, except that there were no houses or clotheslines in the area of the photo. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but that photo always gave me chills when I saw it. (Of course, I often asked for that one and then hid my face when I saw it!)

Many of the slides are landscapes, particularly the autumn scenery along the South’s big, slow tidal rivers. After I came along, Dad added me to his subjects. And every year, he took a special photo to be made into a Christmas card. I was invariably dressed in something red – in one case, even a red bathing suit. Some of those photo sessions were candid, but others were not, and I recall wondering why I was standing in front of the pyracantha bush, with its bright red berries, and why I was supposed to look like I was doing anything but posing for my father and his camera, and thinking how much I hated the pants I had on because they had stirrups that went under my feet. (I was about three at the time.)

Jane jumping into the river.

From one of the Christmas cards. Probably the summer of 1963, when I was 4. I was jumping into the Black River in the Low Country of South Carolina. Note the red swimsuit – red was the color for the Christmas photo, no matter what time of year it was taken! (And yes, I swam like a little fish.)

A few years ago, a cousin of mine was going through some old photos and came across several of those Christmas cards. She posted them to Facebook, to my delight. Treasured memories came back to me, and I started wondering where I had put those slides. I finally found them recently. I transferred the boxes of slide carousels and plastic boxes of loose slides from the disintegrating cardboard box they were in to a plastic tub, wondering how I was going to look at them properly, since the projector no longer worked and the screen was long gone.

A borrowed projector solved part of the problem, but the long-term problem – what to do with hundreds of slides that you’d like to see more frequently – remained. Budget constraints keep me from sending them (there really are a LOT of them) to one of those handy places that scan them for you; I suppose I’ll have to bite the bullet and get a scanner that can handle the slides, along with a case or so of canned air to clean them. In the meantime, I have the few that were made into Christmas cards to spark old memories – memories that have made it into some of my stories.

My own photos are digital these days, but I have many pre-digital prints from when my kids were small crammed into a plastic tub, waiting to be put into albums. (My span is the opposite of my dad’s – I started taking photos of my kids when they were small, and now that they are grown, I have progressed to taking landscapes, although mine are mostly of the arid and dramatic West rather than the lush South.)

I hope that someday my photos can bring back the memories for my kids that my dad’s do for me. And I will continue to enjoy this form of creative expression that often adds inspiration to my writing.

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Two of the Nine Hundred

Today my blog entry has nothing to do with fantasy or geek-things. It’s about the Mumford & Sons concert I went to this week.

A month and a half ago, my husband Pat and I sat poised at a computer, waiting impatiently to strike. We knew we needed to be quick on the draw when the clock hit 1 p.m. The prize? Tickets to Mumford & Sons for their Laramie,Wyoming performance on Aug. 21. The competition? Anyone who wanted one of the 900 tickets going on sale. That’s right – only 900 tickets. And we got two of them.

Pat and I, while we are huge music lovers with very eclectic tastes, rarely go to concerts. But we had heard that Mumford & Sons puts on a great show and since we really enjoy their music and they were actually playing in Laramie, we decided we wanted to see them.

The 900 seat venue where they were playing is the Gryphon Theatre, whichis housed in the Laramie Plains Civic Center. This red-brick building, which takes up exactly one square block, started life many, many years ago as the high school. Eventually, the high school got a new building, and the old building became the junior high school. A little over thirty years ago, the junior high moved, and the building began its slow transformation into the Civic Center. The Gryphon Theatre is actually the old auditorium. (It will seat 900 people, if you include the balcony and added seats in the orchestra pit and at the back.) Murals grace the walls, and the place has been restored with an eye to a graceful historical look.

On the evening of Aug. 21, we queued up with a large crowd of people outside the Civic Center about 5; the show was scheduled to start at 7:30. The line was friendly, with lots of talking and lots of pizzas and sandwiches being delivered – good business for the local delivery places. Nearly everyone had a cellphone out, and I imagine a lot of people were doing what I was doing – boasting on Facebook about having tickets. The lines we waited in to pick up our tickets (most of the tickets were will-call) were organized well, and we were soon stamping and mooing  – I mean packed cellphone-to-cellphone – just outside the theatre doors.

Pat and  I were in the minority in the crowd; the 50-something demographic was not well represented. (I like to think it that was the 50-somethings with good taste in music and fast computers who were there.) We got seats about 15 rows back, near the middle. In any other venue it would have been spectacular to be that close; as it was, they were average seats because all of the seats were good. The tall guy with the great posture did sit in front of me, as usual. (I asked him if he could maybe be a little bit shorter, but, alas, he said that he couldn’t change his height.) It ended up not mattering when Mumford and & Sons took the stage, because we were all on our feet for the rest of the show.

The opening act was Slow Club, a British folk rock band. I enjoyed their performance – I considered it to be more folk than rock. They were fun to listen to. They were followed by Nathaniel Rateliff, a musician with a powerful voice and a good sound.

Finally, Mumford & Sons took the stage. With light still straining through the slightly open doors at the back of the stage (opening to the street outside – it had to be nice to have at least a tiny amount of air stirring on that stage), they started to play.

And what a show! They didn’t just play their music, they performed, and they poured energy into the performance. It was incredible. The whole experience – lights, music, fog, everything – was choreographed for maximum effect, and it worked very well.

The altitude in Laramie (7220 feet, or about a mile and a half above sea level) did prompt a few remarks from the band, and I’m sure made it a lot more work for them to perform, but they still gave it their all. (When he introduced the encore’s second song, Mumford said it needed to be the last song, because they couldn’t do any more – they had thought they were going to collapse half-way through the show. Those of us who live here understood. The altitude takes people that way.)

Because the theatre is so small (they kept referring to it as a room, which really wasn’t far off the mark; they’ve probably played rooms that were bigger than the theatre), we got a special treat. Mumford & Sons performed one of their songs completely unplugged – just their voices and one acoustic guitar, no amps at all. This showcased just how beautifully their voices harmonize. Wow.

The band performed a mix of old favorites from Sigh No More, and new songs from their upcoming album, Babel. From what we heard, Babel should be just as good as their first album.

After the final encore performance, we filed back out into the cool Laramie night. Everyone was talking about how great the show had been. It was an unforgettable night of music.

If you ever get a chance to see Mumford & Sons in person, take it – you won’t be disappointed.

Jane W. Wolfinbarger ©2012

Not Quite Fishing

How much wonder and magic do we miss, every day, just because we don’t pay attention?

I shut the screen door quietly behind me; letting it bang shut like the children did would wake everyone up, and that was the last thing I wanted. The morning was still early, the sun not quite up yet. Then cricket song of the night had not yet given way to the buzz of cicadas that would fill the hot daylight hours. The dewy grass was cool on my bare feet as I walked down the front yard to the dock where the fishing boat was tied.

When I stepped onto the dock, I paused a moment to enjoy the glassy-still water. The tide was high and almost ready to turn. There was no breeze to stir the surface into waves, and nothing moved in the water. I would be rowing this morning, then – I couldn’t bear to break this peaceful silence with the buzz of the outboard motor.

My family was under the impression that I was going fishing, and that I was a mighty poor fisherman since I never seemed to bring anything back. It was true that I slipped away in the early morning when the fish were biting and sought out the quiet spots that fishermen liked to find, but I wasn’t fishing. The truth lay in the waterproof bag that I set in a safe place in the boat before I cast off from the dock. The fishing pole and tackle box were pure misdirection, to keep down the questions about what I was doing.

I put the oars in the oarlocks and set off with the tide, which was now starting to ebb. It would be easier to row with it and then use the motor to come back against it, later on in the morning when the motor’s noise wouldn’t be so raw and harsh. That was fine; one of my favorite spots was only about ten minutes down river – just a pleasant stretch with the oars.

I enjoyed the exercise of rowing – stretching my body and feeling the boat slip through the water in response. Even though the early morning was relatively cool, I quickly worked up a sweat, and by the time I reached the entrance to the creek that was my goal, I was ready to take a break. But the sun was starting to rise now, the sky was colored a pale rose around the edges, and I needed to hurry if I wanted to get where I was going on time.

I rowed into the creek. It was narrow after the width of the river, but still a good fifteen feet across. I knew the water was still deep, too, especially with the high tide. The tidal rivers here near the ocean were slow and silty but wide and deep and filled with life. Some of that life was what drew me out in the early part of the day.

I rowed up the creek, rounding several bends before I found the spot I was looking for. There was a buckeye bush just in the crook of the next bend, and a bed of water lilies on the far side of it. There were no other people here today, which meant I was in luck. I tied the boat to the bush and waited there, bobbing in the middle of the long skinny lily pads locally known as snake tongues.

The moment I was waiting for wasn’t long in coming. As the sun finally pushed over the horizon, the water around me began to stir. As I watched, something began to creep out of the water onto the lily pads. They were small, and looked a lot like dragonflies, red and green and blue, at first glance. But these were no dragonfly nymphs coming out of the water to hatch into adults, dry off and fly away into the new day.

I watched with delight as the first of the little creatures finished drying off from its swim from its creek side burrow. It took flight, buzzing around my head. Another one took off from its lily pad and then landed on the handle of my oar. I dropped my head to look at the little creature up close. It was bright blue, only about three inches long. And it was a perfect little dragon. A mosquito drifted too close and with a quick snap, the tiny dragon trapped it in its jaws and ate it.

Another little dragon, its wings now dry, circled my head once and then landed in my hair. I sat there in the midst of a swirl of dragons no bigger than my thumb as they ate the mosquitoes and gnats that were trying to breakfast on me. It had taken several weeks of waiting here as they emerged and not trying to grab them, to get them to the point that they trusted me and wouldn’t fly away immediately. The insect buffet that I attracted definitely helped with that.

Once sated, the dragons spent a few minutes investigating me and the journal that I had taken from my little waterproof bag. I made quick sketches of the tiny beasts as they lit here and there on and around me. One tried to attack my pencil and another tried to eat the marks I was making on the paper. Finally, as the day grew bright, they buzzed off into the heavily wooded swamp by the creek. From more than a few feet away, they looked like the insects they mimicked, the dragonflies. Only these were far more dragon than fly.

My dose of magic for the day over, I stowed my journal in the waterproof bag once more. I would need a new one soon – this one was getting full the of wonder that I had found. I rowed back out of the creek and then cranked the motor on the boat to go home. I would get there just as everyone else was beginning to wake up, and I would take their ribbing about what a rotten fisherman I was with a smile. What I was catching was far, far better than fish.

– Jane W. Wolfinbarger (She Wolf) ©2009

Roads Going on (Or, Going on Roads that Go on and on)

We had an adventure this past weekend, my husband, Pat, and I. It was a small adventure – nothing on the Bilbo Baggins scale of things, but since we tend to be quite hobbit-like (typical hobbits, not the like the Baggins clan) and stay-at-home-ish, going on a weekend trip is an adventure for us.

We had our daughter and son-in-law’s dogs with us for the first part of the journey. They – the kids, not the dogs – had moved, and were ready for the dogs to join them. Since we wanted to see their new digs, we offered to bring the dogs, who had been staying with us for the past few weeks anyway.

Transporting the dogs was probably the most adventurous part of the whole thing. One of the dogs is a hyperactive, neurotic border collie mix (certain stubborn and high-energy personality traits make us think that the non-border-collie part of him may incorporate some terrier genes). The other dog is a one-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever who is just as sweet the breed is supposed to be. However, he is still rather puppyish, as retrievers tend to be for several years, which makes him prone to ditzy behavior. He is frequently the subject of  “blonde” jokes in our household.

To transport the dogs, we used my car. I drive a small car – a Chevy Aveo hatchback, to be precise, which my offspring fondly call “Mom’s golf cart.” That should give some indication of the size. (I just ignore them. It gets great gas mileage, and I like it.)

Anyway, we crammed our bags into the small hatchback area, wedged the dog food bins and travel jug of water for the dogs behind the seats, and put the dogs themselves on the back seat. Anything we deemed even it even remotely possible to need during the trip was shoved under my feet. Needless to say, I didn’t have much foot room. Things like bags with iPods, a satellite radio, allergy medicine, pain reliever, magazines, my Kindle (although to my everlasting frustration, I can’t read in the car, so it probably didn’t need to be there), my camera, sports drinks and water, the big book of maps (I love maps) and my purse (which is a small backpack all by itself) take up more space than you’d think. Or than I’d think, at least. I don’t seem to have a very good ability to estimate the space needed for stuff.

The dogs, once loaded in the car, were clearly confused. We left our two Labs behind at home, and then we didn’t go to any of the places around town that the dogs were used to going to. Not to any of the old apartments the kids had lived in, not to our son-in-law’s parent’s house, not to mountains, not even to the vet’s. Instead, we got on the highway and kept on going. It was something they couldn’t figure out, and as we left town and passed any possible known destinations, the border collie mix started whining and becoming more and more agitated.

Thankfully, at least one of the dogs was a good traveler – as long as we were in the car. The golden retriever sat and lay down like a gentleman for the entire six-hour trip. I think he might have slept for most of it if the border collie mix hadn’t been stepping on him every few minutes.

Well, actually the golden was a gentleman only as long as we were actually riding in the car. When we stopped at a road-side “look at the historical marker!” area to give the dogs a brief walk-and-sniff break, the golden retriever suddenly showed abilities that would have indicated sled dog in his background if I didn’t know better. He dug in with all four paws and dragged Pat across the gravel and weeds like he was trying to win the Iditarod, veering to the edges where the best smells – and the barbed wire – were. Yeah. I could just see explaining to our daughter and son-in-law why their baby had chunks of fur missing. (And Pat wasn’t too happy about the thought of getting tangled in the barbed wire, either.) Pat said that the golden retriever hauled even harder than our 115 pound Lab does. It was certainly impressive to watch, although Pat didn’t seem to be too impressed with being on the other end of the leash. We cut the stop short and got back in the car. Pat asked for pain reliever from the store of stuff under my feet for his now-aching shoulder.

Mr. Neurotic, the border collie mix, reacted exactly like I thought he would to the car trip. He whined, he panted, he paced the back seat and he tried to get into my lap in the front seat for three-quarters of the trip. Antelope, deer, horses, sheep, goats, cattle and things that I apparently missed seeing by the roadside got his immediate attention and upped his level of activity, and cars or trucks going past us drove him (and by extension, us) nuts. They must be things to herd, right? ( He is never allowed to herd them, and he just can’t figure that out. Physics and size differences aren’t his long suit.) I was thinking longingly of doggy seat belts before we had gone twenty miles.

But when we got out to stretch our legs, he was the gentleman, and I think he was just as annoyed with the golden retriever as we were about the shortened rest stop. (I am pretty sure he knew the reason for the hasty retreat to the car. Despite his inability to understand why we won’t let him try to herd vehicles, he is usually smarter than the rest of us.)

The border collie mix finally settled down for the last two hours or so of the trip. I thought I’d be relieved when the noise and action in the back seat stopped. Instead, I felt sorry for him. Frankly, he looked defeated, with his normally perky ears and tail drooping. He just could not, for the life of him, figure out what we were doing with him.

When I wasn’t wrangling the border collie mix or telling the golden what a good boy he was, I looked at the scenery. Such as it was. (By mutual agreement, Pat does most of the driving.) Much of our trip was through the wonderful open, empty spaces of southern Wyoming and northwestern Colorado.

Seriously, scrape off a layer of sagebrush, and you could expect to see the Mars rover Curiosity trundling along. (Mars, at least, has the allure of the unknown. The Red Desert, not so much) So there wasn’t a lot to see for a good portion of the drive. (Unless you were the border collie mix, who apparently could see things the rest of us couldn’t.)

There were patches of green here and there – pre-tumbling tumbleweeds. They start out as low, bushy cushions of greenery, looking very innocent and refreshingly green in an otherwise brown-and-grey landscape. But they are just waiting for the cold weather of fall and winter to kill them, so they can break off and start rolling down the middle of the highway in packs and wedging their prickly selves in fences. This time of year, they still aren’t innocuous. Every time we passed a big bunch of them, I started sneezing. (Hence the allergy medicine in the under-foot bags.)

This stunning lack of anything but wide open spaces is why the iPods and satellite radio were considered indispensable and part of the gear hanging out under my feet. One got plugged into the stereo so the driver could listen to his podcasts and sports talk shows and the other got plugged into my ears so I didn’t have to listen to his podcasts and sports talk shows (or the dog whining and panting). Winning all around. (Why satellite radio, you ask, and the not just tuning into whatever is available? In the areas we were traveling through, you are lucky if there is a tiny town every fifty miles, and by tiny, I mean towns too small to have radio stations. Usually, they consist of a gas station, a greasy spoon restaurant, and a bar. And maybe a motel that was new in 1949. There isn’t even cell phone reception for great swaths of miles.) Thanks to the entertainment systems we had brought, the miles and miles of sagebrush and rocks whizzed by and we were, indeed, entertained. It also helped defuse the tension radiating from the black-white-and-brown furry body in the back seat when we couldn’t hear Every. Single. Whine.

I know I sound very critical of the landscape. And quite honestly, there is a severe beauty to it. I especially love how open it is. The view is just very slow to change and very repetitive over the course of a long, long drive. It always brings to mind Tolkien’s poem from The Hobbit, “Roads Go Ever On,” because you can see the thing winding away like a ribbon over the hills ahead of you – for miles and miles.

We finally made our way to the kids’ new place. We only had to call for directions twice when we reached their town. Okay, three times. But that was because I didn’t get the directions down quite right the first time, and we missed the last turn. We drove right past their place before I had to call the third time.

Someday, both Pat and I will learn that I am not the best person to take down directions, and possibly the worst person to navigate, in spite of how much I love maps. If I say turn left, I might mean left, or I might mean your other left. Pointing tends to get better results for me, but the driver doesn’t usually appreciate my hand suddenly being flung into his face, and I risk whacking my elbow on the  car window when I try to point the other way. (There have been some memorable and pretty spectacular mis-navigation episodes when I have been in charge of interpreting the directions. Kansas City and St. Louis, in particular, bring back shudders. If you remember the part of the Chevy Chase Vacation movie when they end up in the wrong part of town, you’ll know what I mean.)

The dogs were ecstatic when we pulled into the driveway and they saw who was waiting for them. Our daughter and son-in-law were just as excited over being reunited with their furry family.

Pat and I were exhausted, the back seat of the car was covered with dog hair, I was covered with dog drool from all the panting and we were ready to sit on something that didn’t move for a while.

But it was a mission successfully completed, and a small (very small) adventure for the Wolfinbargers.

Jane W. Wolfinbarger ©2012

Vacuums Away!

I first wrote this little piece in 2008, four years ago. A few things have changed since then (only two dogs now, more birds, fewer kids in the house), but the wear and tear on vacuum cleaners seems to continue. The current model – successor of the one in the story – is now protesting its job with jet-engine noises instead of a peaceful purr. I fear it’s not going to be useable much longer. I just hope it doesn’t try to do what this one did…

*****

I knocked over one of the spider plants yesterday, and needed  the vacuum to get the potting soil out of our cream-colored carpeting. (Yes, I know that cream colored carpeting is insane when you have four dogs, three of whom are large, and four children. It wasn’t my choice. It came with the house. If we can refrain from buying computers and software for a while, we will replace it with wood. Easier said than done. We are geeks.)

Anyway, the vacuum wasn’t where I thought I had put it – where it usually lives, in the back hallway by the big birdcage. My daughter checked the boys’ rooms, I checked various possible spots upstairs, and still no vacuum. I was thoroughly puzzled. Where could the thing be? Our house isn’t that big!

Then, checking in the hallway one more time, I saw a piece of paper sticking out from underneath the stand the big birdcage is on. Grumbling about offspring who can’t seem to pick up after themselves at their ages, I fished the paper out. Not wanting to accidentally throw away someone’s homework or an unpaid bill, I looked at the paper. It wasn’t homework or a bill or even junk mail stolen from the trash by the dogs. It was a note. The writing on it was a little hard to read, but I finally made out what it said.

I wasn’t sure I was seeing it right at first, because it seemed to be from my vacuum cleaner.I know, vacuum cleaners are things, and things don’t write notes. But after this, well, I’m not so sure. The hand writing wasn’t my daughter’s, and it was too legible to be my youngest son’s. It wasn’t like the handwriting of anyone else in the house, either. The note read:

I have had it. I am leaving. I cannot take it anymore. Do you have any idea, any at all, of what it is like to be a vacuum cleaner in this house?! I am not even a heavy duty model. Kirby over there is, and he isn’t working. You wore him out! And then you expect me to just come in and take over? You said you’d get him fixed right away and I would just be the back-up model. That was more than a year ago. I haven’t forgotten, even if you have. If you can wear out a heavy duty model like him, what do you think I feel like?

Let me tell you, this house is no walk in the park. Why couldn’t I have been purchased by a little old lady who vacuums her spotless house once a week? Or even by the owners of a dust farm. THAT would be easier.

Let me elaborate. You have dogs. Specifically, you have Labrador retrievers, who shed five or six Labrador retrievers a week, each. Black and brown fur, on that white carpeting. And you expect me to keep it clean. Oh – and let’s not forget the red mud they track in all spring, summer and fall. You expect me to suck that out, too. Lady, that stuff stains. It’s murder to get out! Torn up papers, mangled sticks, chewed up bits of unnamable things  – all of it falls to me to get rid of. You don’t really want to know what some of the stuff they find to chew on is. Really, you don’t. Oh sure, you push me back and forth, but I’m the one doing the dirty work. And remember how the dogs used to attack me when they were puppies? Who was that fun for? Not me!  

Let’s not forget all those times my hose has gotten clogged with dog hair. Yeah, I know you got it out, but come on- some of those clogs really gave me indigestion until you got them out! (And that broom handle you used in my hose to get loose the clogs caught in the middle of the hose – I think that’s against the Geneva Convention. Pure torture, that was.)

Then there are the birds. I’m glad you like birds, and feathers aren’t hard to suck up, when they don’t fly the other way so I have to chase them. But all that bird seed! I know you can’t stop them from tossing it out of their cages, but can’t you put them somewhere other than on the carpeting? Somewhere you can sweep, for instance?  I wouldn’t even mind if it were just one or two birds. But you have four budgies, a canary, and three lineolated parakeets. That’s a lot of seed, lady, especially when you use me to finish cleaning out a bird cage.  And all that fiber wreaks havoc on my digestive system.

Then there are the times that all of you haven’t checked my bag soon enough and I’ve gotten a tummy ache because my bag was too full, all the rug cleaners and freshening chemicals you’ve made me eat, the times you’ve broken my belt and then blamed me for eating something I shouldn’t – hey, I don’t steer me, you do. And the times someone has just dumped my cord and left it in knots – knots hurt, you know.

Let me also mention coins. Pennies HURT.  People usually manage to pick up the larger stuff, but then they don’t get the pennies and when I run over one, they whack all over inside me with my roller brush and they really, really hurt. If they get up into my fan, they leave nicks in it. How would you like nicks in your digestive tract? At least the kids have out-grown Legos…Small blessings.

Of course, I am used and used and used. I never get a rest. Someone always seems to be vacuuming something up. I am exhausted, on top of everything else.

Monday was the last straw. First thing in the morning – AT SEVEN AM! – I get hauled downstairs to clean up after a sick dog. I mean, YUCK! How would you like to deal with that first thing in the morning? But okay, it’s my job, and if I had been left alone for the rest of the day, it might have been okay. But then, THEN, I get hauled into hell for a cleaning job. Let me tell you, the rooms of seventeen year old boys are unconstitutional torture – even more so than being used to clean out under the sofa cushions. There is NOTHING worse. Old gym socks, dog hair, bits of snacks that he snuck down there so long ago they don’t qualify as food items anymore, all the dirt he has tracked in, pieces of paper, broken pens and pencils, lost change, you name it, he had it down there and most of it, I had to eat. He didn’t do a good job of picking up first, and I had to try to eat a lot of stuff that I couldn’t. That was VERY uncomfortable. I ate so much in that room that I thought I was going to burst. His carpet isn’t large, but believe you me, it was dirty!

So I’m out of here, lady. Get old Kirby over there in the corner fixed, or go buy another sucker – I mean replacement. I don’t care. I am gone. I feel sorry for whoever gets stuck with this job, but is sure isn’t going to be me anymore.

Sincerely,

The Vacuum Cleaner 

Well, I was more than a little bit floored by this (so to speak). But I didn’t think he could have gotten far. After all, the gutters are still full of ice and snow and the streets are still ice ruts on our block. That would make for slow going for a vacuum cleaner with small wheels. After checking all the closets and the corners in the garage just to make sure, I started hunting around outside for tracks.

The front was clear, but I didn’t think the vacuum would have gone that way anyway, because it is so exposed. So I started looking around the back. Sure enough, in a patch of unmelted snow near the back gate, I found the tracks of little vacuum cleaner wheels. I could even see where his underside dragged through the snow because of his low clearance.

Opening the gate, I went out into the alley. I had no trouble seeing his tracks going down the alley, towards the street that leads to the park. He must have followed one of the kids out on trip to the garbage cans last night. There was a lot of mud as well as ice and snow out in the alley, and I could see that while the vacuum was avoiding the puddles, he had almost gotten bogged down at least once.I followed the tracks down the alley and out to the street.

This street was relatively clear of snow and I lost the trail. I looked to see if it resumed in the snow at the park, and sure enough, there it was. I couldn’t be that far behind him, I reasoned, so I kept on following. The trail led to one of the foot bridges across the creek that runs through the park. There are two rather high steps up onto the bridge, and I could see that the vacuum’s tracks turned away here. They went to the edge of the ten-foot deep flood control channel that the creek trickles along the bottom of, but then veered away from that, too, and followed the creek down the park.

The vacuum cleaner was heading towards another street – one that led to an area with nicer homes than our 1960’s era subdivision. So he thought things would be better if he lived in a nicer place, did he? I trotted along, following him easily now.Yes, there were tracks turning up the street to the nicer area…But wait! On the other side of the bridge the tracks were turning back into the park! That could only mean one thing. He had his sights set really high -on the McMansions at the east end of the park.

I followed the tracks up the muddy little road that ran between the stream and the open space part of the park, up towards the kids’ fishing pond. His wheels had to be thoroughly clogged with mud by now. I could see where he had rolled over snow in several places, trying to clean off the mud.

Then, in a picnic shelter by the pond, I found him. He was huddled miserably between the picnic table and the trash can, and looked done in. He was mud-splashed and filthy, and his cord had come partially undone. The trailing cord was why he had stopped. It had wrapped around one of the posts holding up the roof of the shelter, trapping him here. He looked pathetic. His front was partially open, his bag was torn, and there was bird seed leaking out.

I sighed and shook my head and unwrapped the cord from the post. “Ready to go home now?” I asked, taking out the leaking bag and putting it in the trash can and putting his front back on tight. He didn’t say anything, so I took that as a yes, and hefted him up into my arms.

As we went home (by a much shorter route) I scolded him. “You don’t run away from your problems, you face them like a man – I mean a vacuum cleaner. You need to do the job you’re made for, and do it with pride. After all, without you, I have dirty carpets. After you go over them, they look nice again. Be proud of your job! And anyway, if you think you’d have it easier in a fancier house, you have another think coming. They have three times the floor space we do!”

Ten minutes later, I had him home and put a new bag in him. I left him alone for a while, to make sure that he was thoroughly dried out before I plugged him in again, and then I cleaned up the dirt from the plant. The carpet was pristine where I had run him.

“Well, I guess you are glad to be home, eh?” I said.

But just in case, I made sure to put him away in a closet with a door that shuts tight.

-Jane W. Wolfinbarger (She Wolf) © 2008