Not easy but…

My dad once rescued an angry mama cow by luring her into a runway where she thought she could mash him flat as a Gumby toy. He let her stay close to his heels until he reached the door into the barn.

Then he grabbed a fencepost and vaulted onto the top railing while the cow’s momentum carried her into the stall. Not easy but effective.

My brothers slammed the gate behind her and she was penned in a safe place.

That memory of a lithe and strong man of resource has held firm in my mind as I watched his abilities wither along with his body.

The family woke up to Dad’s challenges when he set his pickup engine on fire. Dad was a master mechanic and, even in his 80s, he wasn’t afraid to crawl under the hood and adjust a carburetor.

Something went wrong. Something that wouldn’t have gone wrong 10 years before.

The fire scorched the pickup engine and underside of the hood.

Dad was nearly in tears for his clumsy mistake.

We were nearly in tears at the thought of a fire stealing him away from us.

We could have grounded him, taking away his vehicles and finding ways to keep him tethered to a recliner and television.

We didn’t.

We became very interested in his projects. We hung out with him as often as we could, turning a wrench when he started a repair. We listened when he discussed maintenance.

Just like Dad had rescued that angry cow even though she didn’t know it, we had to do the same for Dad.

He’d taught us to solve problems creatively. If he could vault the fence to save a cow, we searched for ways to save him from himself. Not easy but effective.

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Trying to guess

Inventory control is not always as boring as it sounds.

I once was in charge of ordering parts and verifying shipments.  I ordered an unusual oil filter for a customer. What I got was a little cellophane bag holding a single bolt.

Who sees “oil filter” on the order form and thinks that a bolt is a worthy substitute?

Another order requested six spark plugs. In came six pickup bumpers. Think about the difference in box size for spark plugs and bumpers.

I don’t know; I’d think the shipper would have noticed.

It wasn’t unusual for a part number to have a substitute. For example, a can of grease might originally be S102. Then it would have a substitute number, maybe S112.

The can of worms potential was incredible.

I ordered a case of S102. OK, the order form substituted to the new number: S112 and I got a case of fan belts. No cigar.

But here’s my favorite. Each part’s package, whether box or bag, had the pick ticket attached. That pick ticket was a computer-generated card which included our dealership name and the part number with description.

So one day I got in, pick ticket attached, a 2-foot square of cardboard.

I spent the rest of the day trying to conjure up the scenario that would have allowed a shipper to think a headlight looked like a flat piece of cardboard.

Inventory control is not always boring.

First of the seasons

Today begins a new series on my blog, one that will share stories and poignant moments about that special time of life: when our parents reach elderly.

I will continue my short stories on Tuesdays but plan to publish a “Seasons” story each Friday.

Names will be changed and, in some cases, stories may be blended to protect identities.

Don’t expect the aches and pains reports but stories of victory, stories of endurance, stories of humor.

Check back next Friday for the first Seasons story.

Gift Wrapped

I admire those people who wrap their gifts with crisp corners and elegant bows. Those Christmas settings with deep red and green boxes under the tree, shimmering in style and beauty, inspire me.

I just can’t wrap like that.

When I get out the roll of wrapping paper, I can’t cut it straight. Plus, I end up with all this extra paper that gets hacked off. Yeah, it looks that way.

The idea is that I can turn the edges under and still have a nice gift wrap.

Huh. Somehow mine come out like they were first tossed under the delivery truck. Extra tape doesn’t help, either. I’ve tried that.

When gift bags came in vogue, I was all over that. Just stuff the tissue paper in there and I look like Martha Stewart, right?

Not right. I can’t stuff the paper elegantly, either.

My family has adjusted. On one of my husband’s birthday, the first gift came to him in a cute red “Happy birthday” gift bag. He fished out his gift, set the bag aside, and thanked the child responsible.

Then came his next gift from child #2 – in the red “Happy birthday” gift bag. Child #2 had snatched it, scurried to the kitchen and re-loaded it.

The birthday guy got four different gifts that evening in the same birthday bag. Talk about creative recycling on the run.

Some Christmas bags have been re-used so many times they’re part of the tradition. “Oh, you’re getting the Nutcracker bag. Who had it last year?” We use a marker to cross out last year’s name and add the current recipient to the list.

I may stop crossing out names because we’ve had so much fun recalling the bag’s history.

But my family has also descended to slap-your-hand kind of gift-wrapping. The operative question every birthday is, “Do you want your gift now or do you want it wrapped?’

We’re an impatient bunch. We accept gifts double-wrapped in Walmart bags. We snatch gifts from under a newspaper umbrella. We are happy to open a brown box – especially if the outside of the box doesn’t match the inside.

We figure the point is to disguise the gift as long as possible.

Just don’t tell Martha Stewart.

Donut danger

We’d found a small church with many children and a huge box of donuts available before the worship service began. Our 5-year-old son thought we’d found heaven.

He had a free rein after Sunday school to play with his friends and sample the donuts.

When the service began, he joined us but, before the second song, he headed back out of the church. His father followed and found him in the bathroom, heaving his breakfast.

“Are you OK?” my husband asked.

He was. He washed his face, straightened his shoulders, and nodded.

“What happened? Are you sick?”

Our son shook his head. “No, I ate too many donuts.”

“How many did you eat?”

“Seven.”

His father laughed. “Wow. So did you learn anything from this little episode?”

“Yep,” he said. “Stop at six.”

How not to take a taxi in Cuba

We were sightseeing on our last morning in Havana, Cuba after spending a week of meetings and travel.

All week we had seen El Morro lighthouse and castle across the harbor and finally we found time to visit.

From our hotel, we hailed a government-approved taxi which drove us in a nice little Russian car to the parking lot of El Morro and promised to return in two hours to take us back to the hotel.

Promised. No problemo.

The tour went great. The hosts inside were friendly and helpful.

We bought a few trinkets and then headed out to the parking lot to wait for our promised hotel.

Yes, we knew the chances of him returning weren’t great but we didn’t have a backup plan so we waited.

Then three young Cuban men approached us. “Do you want souvenirs?” They pulled out a silver coin. “See? Che Guevera coin.”

My husband, no great historian unless it involves World War II fighter planes, shrugged.

“He’s a great man,” the young man insisted.

“Not interested.”

So the three men stepped away but stretching your neck and looking far down the street is probably a universal language. They quickly deduced we were waiting for a car.

“Do you need a ride? We have car. Cheap ride. Only $10.”

We’d paid $6 for the government-approved ride over so my husband wasn’t paying $10 to these guys. They tried to negotiate but finally agreed on $6.

The windows of the car were all rolled down and the driver rushed ahead to open the door. That was because you couldn’t use the outside handles. Clue one.

We climbed in and buckled up. There were no liners on the door panels and we could see all the rods running to locks and windows. We kept our hands to ourselves.

The little car scooted down the highway and then dropped into a tunnel under the harbor. As the car began to descend, the driver pushed in the clutch and turned off the engine. We coasted nearly to the other end of the tunnel.

I’ll bet he saved a tenth of a gallon of gas with that trick. Clue two.

He started the engine once gravity threatened to stall him, downshifted, and went right through a stop sign. I don’t know what the speed limit was but our driver obviously didn’t care. We did stay on all four wheels.

He cruised up to our hotel, double-parked out front in the narrow street, and shut off the engine again. Another tenth saved.

He jumped out to open our doors because apparently the inside latch on the doors needed a secret twist before they’d open.

We paid him. In that country, he may have just made half a month’s wages.

We’d just taken a unlicensed taxi ride with an illegal driver in a foreign country and we actually still had our possessions.

Travel is quite an adventure, isn’t it?