The Wednesday Read: A Halloween Story

A Halloween story from my childhood. Enjoy…

 As children living in a very small town, all the kids and I were excited when Halloween would roll around. The residents in the small town were also excited to see the children come to their doors and yell, “Trick or Treat.” Everyone knew who the kids in town were, even when we were dressed like skeletons or cowboys.

I had a sister who was about 10 years older than I, and she was sometimes given the chore of taking little Mikie around town to trick or treat. If you were a 16 or 17-year-old teenager, the last thing you really wanted to do was to take your little brother trick or treating. My sister knew that the sooner she made her way around town with me, the sooner she could go and hang out with her friends. Of course, I kept hearing her say, “Hurry up” throughout the evening.

There was always something about Halloween that made me uneasy as a little kid. You would see people out walking around in the shadows, and it was a spooky night with the leaves rustling in the wind, and there were strange noises. Plus, my sister would tell me scary stories for a few days before Halloween to get me ready for Halloween night. Also, some of the folks, whose houses I visited were a little scary.

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Paying My Debt to Society

I recently broke the law.  Yes…me.  I am guilty as charged.

Before I tell this story, please know that I have the utmost respect for police officers and other government workers.  I was a military police officer for over a decade and I have worked for different agencies in the government.  I do have to poke a little fun at the calamity of city government.  I won’t disclose names, badge numbers, or identify the people in city government I met and dealt with during this…experience.

Although I won’t do that, I will offer my observations and some cynical and sarcastic commentary about the experience.  I hope you enjoy it!

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Lemons = Lemonade

There was a compelling story in yesterday’s Billings Gazette about the Stillwater Mining Company laying off employees. Particularly interesting to me was the story about the young man who moved from New York to Montana and spent one whole day on the job and was then laid off.

His situation brought back memories. Many years ago as a young man, I applied for a job with the Chicago and North Western Railroad (C&NW) in the Midwest. They were hiring people because the C&NW had purchased tracks from the bankrupt Rock Island Railroad.

After putting in my application, I was called and asked to show up at a hotel in Des Moines, Iowa. They gave about 300 of us a couple of tests. Those two tests cut the 300 down to about 40-50 applicants. Then we had a personal interview with one of the Human Resources people. After that, they said they would call me if they wanted me to take a physical.

A day later, I was called to take the physical exam the next week. I passed the physical and was cleared to start work.

The call came and they told me I would start “brakeman” school in two weeks. I was going to school to be a brakeman for the C&NW out of Des Moines, Iowa! The money was very good, so I was looking forward to a new life.

I gave my two weeks notice at my current job, and I prepared to move a few hundred miles to my new job. The day before I left, the railroad called and told me my class was delayed for a week. That was no problem. At the end of that week, they called me again and said school was delayed two more weeks. At the end of the two weeks, they called me again and said I was officially laid off.

I attempted to obtain unemployment benefits but because I had quit my last job voluntarily and never worked even one day for the C&NW, I was out of luck. I called the head of the Human Resources department for the C&NW and begged him to let me work there for one day, so I could at least draw unemployment. He said, “Sorry, I can’t do that.”

Hopefully the young man who was laid off from the Stillwater Mine on Monday will at least be able to obtain unemployment benefits.

As for me, the C&NW never called me to go to work. I guess after almost 25 years, I should give up on ever being a brakeman for the C&NW. After being laid off, I enlisted in the Air Force, which was by far a much better choice.

But every so often I hear a train in the middle of the night and think, “What if…”

A Short Story

He calmly gazed down at the document, which contained authorization for water projects across the nation. The bill, H.R. 1495, the “Water Resources Development Act of 2007” was crammed full of excessive spending. It had easily passed the House and the Senate because everyone received some pork.

“It’s getting close to the holiday season, but these ‘gifts’ are excessive,” he told his staff. “I just don’t understand their math.”

He commented, “They took a bill in the House of Representatives that was $15 billion and negotiated the differences with the U.S Senate bill that was $14 billion. Then, they passed a bill that was $23 billion.”

He proudly stated, “As a graduate of Yale University, this fuzzy math just does not add up. At Yale, we’d take the $14 billion and the $15 billion and split the difference. If my trusty calculator is correct, a compromise would have been…$14.5 billion.”

So the President of the United States of America, George W. Bush, vetoed the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.

Members of Congress across the fruited plain were struck with overwhelming shock at the President’s veto. The shame! The travesty! One Stanford graduate serving in the U.S. Senate pulled out his pocket dictionary/thesaurus and proclaimed the President’s veto was “downright dumb.” Another said President Bush is “out of touch with the priorities of rural America.” Still another said the veto was “shortsighted.”

Of course, the veto will be overridden by the House and the Senate because everyone gets a little pork in this bill…if it’s funded through the Appropriations Committees down the road. But that’s another story for another day.

The grass is greener…

I enjoy working in my yard. When I lived on base while I was in the Air Force, you had to take care of your yards so when/if the Colonels and Generals drove through, they wouldn’t make a negative comment about your yard and say something like, “Why does that airman have two vehicles torn apart in his front yard?” If that happened, then all hell would break loose as the word would go through your chain of command and you would get called in to your commander’s office and the commander would explain to you how keeping your yard looking good was part of your mission in the Air Force. He would explain to you that if your grass was over three inches tall in your yard, the planes could not take off on time or something like that. Of course, you believed him; he was your commander.

So anyway, I learned to love yard work.

Here in Montana, I live between two completely opposite thinking neighbors in regards to their yards.

The one that has a bad-looking yard believes something like, “Dude, the grass will just die in the winter so why cut it – let it live a long healthy life, man.” I heard that before we moved in, there was a kid lost for three days in his yard. I know we’ve lost basketballs, soccer balls and other stuff there for a few days. Our dog, a beagle, got into his yard one time and thought it was a hunting area for rabbits. He did not want to leave.

He has old cars, old lawnmowers, an RV that has expired plates on it (from five years ago). It’s a jungle and the city tells him to cut his grass about one time per year, and that’s when it’s done – but hardly any other time. So to help with the problem, we put a five foot tall vinyl privacy fence up between his property and mine.

The other neighbor is a geek about his yard. He treats every blade of grass as his child. I must sadly admit that the other neighbor’s grass is greener than mine and his yard has hardly anything growing in it except real grass because he gets down on his knees and crawls around looking for renegade broadleaf weeds growing.

He waters every day. A few years ago, they decided to go on vacation and asked my son to water their yard and mow it. My son said he would, so a couple of hours later, his wife brought over the “technical” directions for watering their yard, which were a few pages long. I first thought it was plans for building a missile. The directions read something like, “place the sprinkler three feet from the sidewalk and close to the neighbor’s property line, facing toward the street. Turn on water. Water this area for one hour and 23 minutes every other day.” There were examples drawn on the paper to follow with little pictures drawn of the sprinkler and its proper place for full coverage of the yard. I told my son, “Don’t even let any of that yard turn brown or we’re dead.”

My neighbor’s also like “Tim the tool man Taylor” and believes everything can be built out of wood. You’ll hear his power saw running throughout the day. I believe that everything can be built too, and you can buy it at the store.

The biggest differences between the geek’s yard and mine are a dog and kids. They have no dogs or kids. I have two kids and a dog. My dog likes to dig, but she is learning that digging gets her in big trouble. Of course, the dog goes to the bathroom in the yard and this hurts my grass, too.

I had a big victory this year as my tomato plants produced first. I also have some peppers planted and they are looking good.

So anyway, I live between two very different neighbors. As long as I keep ahead of the neighbor who has a junk yard, I can live peacefully and sit on my patio at night drink a cold beer, enjoy my yard, and listen to the sound of my neighbor’s sprinkler and his table saw.

Tornado Alley

Growing up in the Midwest, I saw my fair share of “Severe Thunderstorm Warnings” “Tornado Watches” and quite a few “Tornado Warnings.”

I’ve seen my share of actual tornadoes. Some of them can really do a lot of devastation.

In my later life, I’ve seen a few typhoons, blizzards, etc. Nothing compares to a tornado.

The tornado’s path cannot be predicted. You may have the warnings, but until it hits, it is very hard to predict where it will go and by then it may be too late.

One time when I was very young, I remember my dad waking us up in the middle of the night, telling us that we needed to “get to the cellar” because it does not look too good outside. Of course this was before weather radio and we only had three stations on TV; they were all off the air at 3:00 a.m.

Root cellars are not too common anymore. They were used to store fruits and vegetables and they were usually placed close to the house so they could be easily accessible. Ours had two doors, one to the entrance to the stairs and another one at the bottom of the stairs that allowed you to get into the actual cellar. Inside it was about eight by eight in size and we had chairs and a kerosene lamp. There were selves with canned fruit and vegetables. They were stored there in the summer to keep them cool and in the winter to keep them from freezing.

That night it was like a scene from the 1996 movie, Twister. The wind was blowing very hard making it hard to even stand up, tree limbs were flying around and the rain stung when it hit you. We found our dog, named Cisco (named by me after the Cisco Kid), and made our way into the cellar. Most cellars have vents and you could hear the sound of the twister (yes, it sounded like a freight train) rolling through.

In a few minutes it was over and then the rain and hail came. We exited the cellar and saw what we could of the devastation, since it was around 4:00 a.m. Luckily our home, shed and vehicle made it through OK. Our apricot tree was shredded with limbs all over the place. Around our small town the same destruction held true. But other areas were not so lucky.

Later that day, we took a car ride and since most twisters travel in a northwesterly direction, we followed roads that would take us that way. About 10 miles from home, we went over a hill and there were splinters of wood all over the side of the next hill. As we got closer to the splinters, we could see it had been a home. We stopped and it was something I’ll never forget: The home was torn completely up with no parts of it being over three feet long. The foundation was all that was left. They found appliances up to five miles away. A year or so later during a drought, the owner found his refrigerator in his pond a half mile away. Clothes were hooked on tree limbs miles away. It was sad as this family lost most of their possessions.

It was a very good thing that I saw this event as a child. I take “Tornado Warnings” seriously even up here in Big Sky Country.