Friday, May 28, 2010

First Born And First Loved

It's hard to believe, but my First-Born, Jennifer Lynn is 32 today. Wait a minute! What's going on here? It feels like I just left The Expecting Fathers' Waiting Room at North Side Hospital in Youngstown. A glorious day that started out with not a cloud in the sky. I sat on the ledge of a huge window on the third floor watching the 1st shift trickle into work. It was starting to sink in that I'm now a father. Would I remember my vow as a rebellious teenager to never raise my child like my parents did? My turn now, to mold this kid into every thing I wanted her to be. As all of us parents know, easier said than done.

I was a young father. At 22, I was very energetic and excited about our first child on the way. My wife and I went to weekly Lamaze classes as I prepared to be the coach when my wife went into labor. I'll never forget, "Three Hees and a Hoo", one of the breathing techniques that we practiced religiously. My wife was in labor for 22 hours and was on the verge of needing a C-Section. After a dose of Pitosin, things happened quick. My beautiful daughter was born! 8 pounds, 9 ounces, full head of dark hair. Hell, the kid looked ready for first grade!

The television mega-hit, "Roots" was on the weeks leading up to her birth. I couldn't resist when the nurse handed me Jenny in the Delivery room. I kissed her on the forehead and lifted her skyward saying,"I Name you Kunta Kinta!", mimicking the scene in Roots when the lead character was born. I got a good laugh from The Delivery Team and a scornful look from my wife.

One of the first things I did when we brought Jenny home from the hospital was to go to a Nursery and buy a tree for her. A 5-foot beautiful Mountain Ash was planted in the back yard right next to where the Swing Set would go. At the base of the tree, I put in a small cement plaque with her name and date of birth on it. In later years, she made sure she told everyone that it was HER tree. The tree would also become first base for kick ball games.

When Jennifer turned two, I became a full-time Fireman. Working 24 hours on, 48 hours off, gave me a lot of time with my daughter in her formative years that most dads didn't have. I was able to attend a lot of pre-school field trips and events. I especially remember the trip to the Christmas Tree Farm. Being the only dad there, I was elected to cut the tree down the class selected. I think I still have bits of Pine Tar on my hands and arms, not to mention soaked pants from having to crawl under the tree. I can't imagine how many scores of pumpkins I carried back to the bus from The farm field Halloween trip.

Most Saturday mornings while my daughter was of pre-school age, It was "Mommy Time". My wife had the morning to herself to do whatever she wanted to do. Shop, visit friends or relatives, or just sleep. In nice weather, Jenny and I took off on my ten-speed bike with her strapped to the child carrier on the back. Our first destination was Casey's Restaurant in Poland for breakfast. All the folks there fussed over this adorable little girl and Jenny reciprocated with laughs and giggles. I do remember bringing home a free kitten from a house along our bike trail. The poor little thing scratched me from head to toe by the time I got it home.

One of our favorite things to do when Jennifer was about three was playing, "The Price Is Right!", her favorite show. Jenny would go to the top of the carpeted steps and wait for me to yell from the living room, Jenny Benny Rupe, C'mon Down!" she'd slide on her butt down the steps and ran across the floor into my arms, where I would lift her high in the air and say, "You are the next contestant on The Price Is Right!" She would always squeal in laughter. To this day, I Still call her Jenny Benny. She may be a mother herself, but she'll ALWAYS be my Little Girl.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm?

Growing up in suburban Youngstown, Ohio, I didn't really learn too much about nature and the Great Outdoors other than my hiking in Yellow Creek Park out to Hamilton Lake. Sure, I did a lot of fishing in my youth and some hunting, but nothing prepared for for the rural life that awaited me in the late 80's, when I moved to North Central Ohio. Podunk wasn't a good enough name for this place. I think their were more dirt and gravel roads than motorized vehicles.

Other than The Canfield Fair, The Mahoning County's agricultural fair, I had never even seen any farm animals, up close and personal. outside of a vegetable garden in the back yard, I didn't know squat about crops and the effort it took to plant, fertilize, nurture, and harvest bountiful acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa. The only Alfalfa I knew was on the Little Rascals.

For about a year, I rented a small house that overlooked a five acre pond, set in the middle of a huge farm of several hundred acres. To me, it was an ideal setting. Previous to this place, I could always hear my neighbors flush their toilets. Ahhhhh, the peace and quiet! I had moved there in late Winter, little did I know what would befall me when the growing season commenced. I was surrounded on three sides by crop fields and by mid-March, the tractors were roaring by the house pretty much 24/7 until the fields were tilled and the crops planted. This usually took until late May.

About 5 feet from my bedroom window was a four foot high pasture fence. I never paid much attention to it or the large pasture that led to a barn about 300 yards away. One morning, I was blasted out of bed by the loudest MOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I had ever heard in my life. Yeah, that's right, a cow was straining hard against the fence to reach my window to let me know it was time to get my City Ass out of bed! At first, all I could do was run around in circles in my bedroom. After the cobwebs cleared out of my brain, I finally realized what the hell was going on and had a good laugh. I proceeded to have a talk with the farmer who owned the pasture and he agreed not to let the cows into that pasture so early in the morning. Maybe my telling him I was from Youngstown and I'd hate to put a contract out on his cow had something to do with it.

Near the end of Summer, I noticed the same cow laying down in the grass about 10 feet from the fence. Gee, I thought, there sure are a lot of flies on that poor cow. I walked up to the fence and realized the cow was dead. I called the farmer up to give him the bad news and he asked me to jump over the fence and physically check to make sure the cow wasn't breathing. Apparently, he didn't trust this City Slicker. I obliged him and high jumped over the fence, only to land in a large cow pie that was plopped down right in my landing zone. This of course, made me lose my balance and I promptly fell on to my back, in you guessed it, MORE cow pies! Naturally, I had just got off work and still had my dress clothes on. There was even cow poop on my tie! I dutifully went over to the cow to make sure it was not breathing. I lifted it's front leg and was able to turn the cow over like I was using a long-handled jack. Yep, it was dead all right.

Don't get me wrong, the place did have it's charms. It was built in the 1840's and I actually saw the property deed that was written on sheep skin and signed my President James K. Polk. The support beams were cut with an axe and the floors were made of Ironwood, which can't be found today. I learned all about Ironwood after ruining two Circular Saw blades by cutting out a small section of damaged floor. The best part of the property was the pond. Heavily stocked with Pan Fish and Small and large-mouth Bass. There was nothing like coming home after a long, hard day, cracking open an iced-cold beer and "Dippin' a Line" for an hour or so. You were almost guaranteed to catch something, even though I never kept what I caught. It never failed to wind me down after a stressful day.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

So, How's The Weather There?

Anyone who hails from Northeast Ohio knows the type of weather that is typical and unique to the area. We know that Oklahoma gets rain sweepin' down the plain. We get Gully Washers whippin' across the Mahoning Valley. Other locations get the publicity, like Tornado Alley. Sure, they get a lot of tornadoes in the Summer. Northeast Ohio gets severe weather year round.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of playing in snow taller than I was. We didn't have to pile up snow to make a structure to play in. All we had to do was start tunneling. Our yard looked like giant hamsters had taken it over with tunnels in the snow going in every direction. There was a good chance that a snowman that was built in December would still be there in March. Kids were booted out of their homes to go play, when the parents had had enough of restless behavior. You quickly learned how to dress warm and stay warm for several hours in below freezing temperatures.

The boys in my neighborhood played football a lot in this weather. How fun it was to be tackled hard and never getting hurt in a foot of fluffy snow. No one could get up much speed while running. It was a game in slow motion. the only downsides were the football itself which would turn into a frozen rock and feel like it when you landed on it and when you would get your coat and shirt pulled up while being tackled and get snow in places where it definitely didn't belong.

You know it gets cold when the HIGH temperature for the day was MINUS 22 degrees f. We had a cold snap like that in the late 70's. Schools were closed for several days and the only happy people were the Tow Truck Drivers and the gas and electric companies. The poor guys that were on the water company repair crew were kept busy by a large number of waterline breaks. I was a Fireman at the time and we had to drag our fire hose back to the station behind the truck. It was too frozen to roll up. Now that's cold!

Spring rains often came in torrents. It wasn't uncommon for it to rain for a solid week. The ground would become totally saturated and sewers and creeks overflowed into many an unfortunate homeowners' basement. Construction methods weren't what they are today. You considered yourself lucky if your basement was completely dry. Little League games were played much later into the Summer than planned. So many Spring games and practices had to be cancelled, that it extended the season.

The first paddling I received in grade school was because of the heavy rains that flooded our school yard. During recess, I ventured off the blacktop into the forbidden section of yard that had a good foot of water in it with three other boys. Naturally, we all got soaked to the bone. Our teacher took us to the Principal's Office for three swats each (on a wet butt, to boot), then off to the Nurse's Office to disrobe and sit under a blanket while our clothes dried on a radiator.

The Summer brought many severe thunderstorms to our area. Fourth of July weekend of 1969 sticks in the minds of many locals. A brutal storm that rolled across the Mid-West, slammed particularly hard in Ohio with several inches of rain, hail, and 70 M.P.H. winds. The storm hit our area shortly after the dinner hour. My sister, brother-in-law, eight month old niece, and myself, being fourteen at the time, found ourselves in a pop-up camping trailer at Berlin Reservoir. The warning systems weren't in place like they are today and we had no clue a storm of this magnitude was upon us. We heard the forecast for rain, but what else was new?

At the height of this powerful storm, the trailer began rocking like a see-saw. It would literally touch the ground on each side, front to back, with us huddled in the middle. We unzipped a door flap to look out, only to see a large tent with a family in it, begin rolling across the campground. My brother-in-law and I ran out and laid on top of the tent until the worst of the storm had passed. I had no idea that rain could sting so bad on bare skin! Fortunately, everyone escaped with no injuries. Every town in the area was devastated with downed power lines and trees that blocked many streets.

In 1980, an F5 tornado, the most powerful, left a path of destruction of over fifty miles long. It was over a mile wide at times and never left the ground as it scoured everything in it's path from Warren, Ohio to Beaver falls, Pennsylvania. The only thing I can relate the images of the aftermath to were of pictures I have seen of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped. I saw first-hand what the power of Mother Nature can do. Steel corrugated building panels wrapped around the top of 100 foot tall Oak trees and semi trucks rolled into a corner of a huge trucking yard like bowling pins are just a couple of the scenes I observed. To this day, that tornado ranks as the most destructive in terms of it's length, width, and total property damage in U.S. history.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tin Soldiers And Nixon Coming

Forty years ago, on May 4th, 1970, The Anti-War Movement against The Vietnam War came to a peak with the shooting of four students at Kent State University. America was forever changed that day. Anyone who remembers one of the blackest marks against our freedom has an opinion about who was right or wrong and who was to blame for the shootings.

I was fifteen years old when the shootings occurred at KSU. Kent was only an hour's drive from my home in Struthers, Ohio. One of the four students that was shot that day was a girl from Boardman, a suburb next to us in the Youngstown area, so it really hit home literally to anyone from our geographic location. I recall following the news intently on the television that day as grainy videos were shown of the mayhem that resulted from The National Guard firing upon students as they marched towards the Administration Building up The Blanket Hill Area of campus. I will never forget the photograph of a girl kneeling over a slain student and the horrified look on her face as she screamed for help.

Governor James Rhodes was vilified by the students for allowing the National Guardsmen to carry live ammunition and fire on the students if threatened. The Guard always claimed that the students fired upon them first. Even after years of scrutiny and debate, No one can definitively say exactly what happened. A lot depends on what side of the issue they were on. America became very divided over the Kent State Shootings and did hasten the politicians to taking great strides to end American involvement in Vietnam.

Because of my involvement and leadership in DECA, The Distributive Education Clubs Of America, I was offered a "Full ride" scholarship to Kent State. KSU was the only university that offered a Major in Distributive Education in Ohio. I declined the offer directly because of what happened there and the student unrest. I didn't want to be any part of it. At least, that's what my 18 year old mind was telling me. Three years had past and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was winding down and The Draft had ended. I suppose I used it as a convenient excuse to stay close to home.

Ironically, my Senior year, we had a student teacher in Distributive Education that came from Kent State. He had the unique prospective on that fateful day on May 4th, 1970, to be a student AND a National Guard Soldier. Talk about conflicted. He told my class, no matter what, he knew he would not fire his rifle that day. If commanded to do so, he said he would have fired over every one's head. He took us for a tour of The KSU Campus and showed us Blanket Hill and a abstract sculpture that had two bullet holes in it. If you looked through the holes and lined them both up in your field of sight, you can see that it was in direct line with a fire escape on a student dormitory building. This supposedly supports the allegations from the Guard that the students fired upon them. Again, I don't think we will ever know the whole truth.

In the Summer of 1973, I had just graduated from high school and attended my first major rock concert at Cleveland Municipal stadium, called "The World Series Of Rock". Among the performers that evening was Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. They played their recently released anthem of the Anti-War Movement, "Ohio", a moving song about The KSU Shootings. Over 100,000 kids sang the song along with them while holding up their Bic Lighters. Chills ran down my spine and as I looked around, there were not many dry eyes to be seen. That was my first experience of the power that music can have on our lives.

In a perverse way, I suppose I'm glad I lived through those days. I learned a lot about how powerful a movement of people can be when supporting an issue. Our forefathers fought for our independence much the same way. America's heroes were those that stuck their necks out for all of us. This includes our soldiers and the protesters that believe the course our country is headed is in the wrong direction. That's freedom, like it or not. We all need to defend it to our last breath.