Monday, October 31, 2011

First snow of the season for Wichita?

There's an old fable that says the date on which a city receives its first snowfall tells you how many snows the coming winter will bring.

If it's true, then snowfall won't be commonplace in Wichita this winter. That is, if the forecast for snow flurries on Wednesday - All Souls Day, November 2 - proves accurate.

Then again, if the saying refers to measurable snowfall, then the wait figures to continue for Wichita. The flurries aren't likely to pile up late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

And, no, this photo wasn't taken in southern Kansas. It is just a nice shot of snow I came across. Makes me want to put on some snowshoes, go for a hike and then come back to a fireplace and some hot chocolate!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Introducing Curly

It probably seemed strange to get an "update" on Curly when he hadn't even been introduced here on my blog.

Mind you, I had written a blog post about the mixed-breed poodle with short black curly hair that mysteriously appeared at our farm in western Pawnee County about three weeks ago. I'd even attached a couple of photos.

But it's vanished, so I'll try again.

Something or someone had obviously abused Curly prior to his arrival. He didn't want Mom or me to touch him - or even get close. But somehow he knew this was a safe place to be, because he didn't leave.

He'd eat what Mom left for him, though he would wait for her to go before venturing near the dish. As the days passed, he would let her get closer and closer.

But me he didn't trust at all. He'd eye me from a distance, curious about what I was doing. He'd sleep in the sun on the front porch, and press his nose against the glass patio door, peering inside to see what we were doing.

He even had an awareness of how to pose for a camera, as shown by this photo I took as I left the farm after several days of rest and relaxation. He was about 20 feet away, staring off to the south. I called his name, and he turned to see me standing there with the camera. He plopped down into a shaft of light and looked right at the camera, as if to say, "How's this?"

It's pretty impossible not to grow fond of a pup like that. The question was how long he would stay - and whether he would ever let anyone get close to him again.

Curly takes off

An update on Curly, the mixed breed poodle that wandered onto our farm just a few days before I arrived for some rest and relaxation: He'd clearly been mistreated before he arrived, given the distance at which he kept Mom and me.

Though he wouldn't let us get close, he clearly wanted to stay. He'd sun himself on our front porch and press his face against the glass patio door to watch what we were doing inside. (There has been a longstanding "no pets inside the house" rule at the Finger farm, and that hasn't changed even in recent years)

He hungrily ate anything Mom would offer him - except dry dog food. Go figure.

Whenever I would venture someplace outside, he would follow ---- at a distance --- curious about what I was up to. He even tailed Mom on her various ventures. She began to invite him along whenever she went out to hang or retrieve clothes from the clothesline.

It was there he began to let her pet him. Mom took the opportunity to check his coat and legs for wounds or scars or stickers. She would talk to him, getting him used to the sound of her voice, using a soothing tone to comfort him.

One day, he followed her out to the mailbox, at her invitation. It's out next to K-156, a state highway that sees plenty of truck traffic and other heavy vehicles. Cocoa, the lone cat left on the farm --- it's her farm, she just lets Mom stay there --- also tagged along. She doesn't like Curly, seeing him as competition. She's shooed him away from the food bowl more than once, if for no other reason to let him know who's boss.

Well, while they were out at the mailbox a few days ago, Cocoa spooked Curly again ---- and this time he took off running. West, down K-156.

Mom yelled at him to come back, but he kept going.

She returned to the house, hoping to see him again soon. She worried that he would just keep on running.

I was more worried a truck would hit him, the driver unable to see or avoid that small black batch of curly fur ambling along a strange road. We had lost a number of family pets and other livestock - including Frosty Flyer, our best racing quarter horse, on Christmas Eve one year - so it was more than a possibility.

The hours passed, and still there was no sign of Curly. What had become of him?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stranger Danger: What if it had been someone else?

I was on one of my frequent early evening walks a few days ago when I turned onto a residential street near my apartment complex.

The sidewalks are in good shape, the animals well-behaved. It's a nice stretch of one of my most common routes.

On this day, it offered an unsettling surprise.

I saw the small boy on his tricycle riding on the driveway of his house. He couldn't have been more than 4. As I reached the mailbox next to the sidewalk, he rode up and stopped.

"Give me a hug," he said, reaching his arms up to show he meant it. "I'll stay on my bike."

While I had seen him before, I'd never talked to him or his parents. My heart skipped a beat at his request. While I was touched by his gesture, I also knew there was no way I could grant his request.

"I'm sorry, but no," I told him, slowing slightly so he could hear me.

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because your parents don't know me," I told him. "But thank you."

"Oh," he replied.

I wanted to stop and tell him that he shouldn't ask for hugs from people he doesn't know. But I had visions of a parent looking out the window and seeing a man they don't know talking to their son. A call to 911, and suddenly I've got police officers questioning me about a perfectly innocent exchange that from a distance may have appeared to be sinister.

I kept walking, and I thought that would be the end of it. But he began following me down the block on his tricycle. We passed one house, then another. And another. I was about to stop and tell him "It would be better if you stayed close to your house" when he stopped and turned back on his own.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

And yet the incident scared me. What if he asked for a hug from someone else? Someone who turned out to be a predator?

Why wasn't a parent keeping an eye on their son? What's going on that such a young child is asking for hugs from total strangers passing by on the sidewalk?

He didn't appear to be malnourished or bruised. It was likely nothing more than an innocent request from a child who has no concept of the bad things that have happened to other children snatched from the street. It doesn't happen often, police have told me, but that doesn't mean it won't.

Perhaps I was just being paranoid - the result of covering too many tragic stories involving children for the Wichita Eagle.

Yet I found myself awfully tempted to walk up to that door and tell the parents it was time they had a talk with their son about the proper behavior to exhibit around strangers. It may just save them much grief some day.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Social Security a Ponzi scheme? Hardly

Maybe Rick Perry didn't do his homework. Or maybe he was trying to score "catch phrase" points when, during one of the countless recent debates among Republican presidential candidates, he called Social Security "a Ponzi scheme."

Perhaps he should have added the phrase, "not intended to be a factual statement."

This isn't a partisan rant. It's just an effort to set the record straight.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, granting monthly support payments to those 65 and older, the life expectancy for those born that year was less than 62 years. While those who made it to 65 could expect to live another 12 years or so, barely more than half the males and just 60 percent of the females reached retirement age due to accidents, illnesses or other causes of death.

Social Security is running out of money because life expectancies have lengthened - and population surges such as the Baby Boom are aging into the system, even as the number of people paying into Social Security is shrinking due to declines in the size of families. There simply aren't enough people paying into FICA to offset what's going out to those already retired...or who will be within the next few years.

A Ponzi scheme is intentional fraud, an elaborate shell game designed to dupe investors. Social Security became a victim of several factors that converged into a costly conundrum.

Are reforms necessary? Without question. But to stain the program with a label associated with a criminal enterprise is either ineptitude in action or intellectual dishonesty on display.

Neither is acceptable - particularly from someone who wants to be president.

"Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up"

I've just returned from several days out at the farm.

I spent the time gathering information for the family history I'm writing, going for walks and just hanging out with my mother. I'm blessed with a strong relationship with her, and she welcomed the opportunity to just stay at home for a few days and veg. She's 85, yet she has been blessed with good health and is still able to get out and about quite well (despite hip replacement surgery and sciatic nerve issues in recent years), so for her to stay home for 3 straight days was noteworthy.

Someone new is staying out at the farm these days, too. He wandered in a day or two before I arrived, a mixed breed (looks like a poodle mixed with something else) who obviously was abused wherever he was before. He won't let us approach him, but he desperately wanted food, water and warmth. Mom has dubbed him "Curly" for his black, curly hair.

He keeps us at a distance, but liked to keep us in view most of the time. He also took to napping on the front porch, and just watching us through the patio door. (We have had a long-standing rule of no pets in the house....make sure they're taken care of, but none inside. I agree with that rule for many reasons).

Anyway, for all his stand-offishness, I had to chuckle when I took a picture of Curly just before I left the other day. He was looking at something out by the creek, away from me. But when I called his name, he turned, saw me with the camera, and plopped down on the grass in a beam of sunlight. As if he was posing.

See for yourself.

Mom's fussing already about who is going to take care of him when she's off on one of her jaunts to see family or friends - trips that can last several days. Curly may end up at my sister's house in rural Reno County, where she still has a young son and a teenage daughter at home.

We'll see. He's clearly fond of Mom already.....and that makes me smile.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Letters from the war

As I sort through the dozens of letters Dad wrote home from Europe during World War II, I gather glimpses of different sides of him - sides that I, as a son, never saw once he returned home.

These are the letters of a son to his parents, of a man in love to his sweetheart, of a brother to the siblings back home on the farm. Different voices, but all from the same man.

In the midst of the carnage of war, he spends much time striving to calm the anxious hearts back home.

With death all around him, he talks frequently of life upon his return to Kansas. It can be easy to forget that he turned 21 in combat. Or that he was a classic foot soldier in so many ways, whose letters home reflected how much even the smallest things could matter when you're under fire in a strange land.

He wrote with enthusiasm about such things as a cup of fresh milk, a bottle or keg of beer, a home-cooked meal or a dry place to get some sleep.

This passage, in a letter dated Feb. 20, 1945 and written somewhere in France, made me laugh. He'd already been in the front lines for nearly a month:

I don't give a darn for their whiskey. They call it comish or schnapps. We use it in our cigarette lighters and it works as good as any fluid so you can see how strong it is."