Thursday, September 26, 2019

Sister Hubert

FROG HOSPITAL -- September 25, 2019

I'm having flashbacks of the Watergate hearings this morning. This is serious. Well, all I have to say is that Nancy Pelosi speaks for me. Elizabeth Warren speaks for me. Greta Thunberg speaks for me. They will set things right. What I'm going to do is stay out of their way and tell this tale from the 1950s. 

Sister Hubert

By Fred Owens

This isn't really a story because nothing changed. From 1956 to 1960 everything stayed the same in my life except for a few things like I got bored in school because I was one of the smart kids and there was no challenge to it, just sitting there and staring at the ceiling, but this was in 7th and 8th grade. In earlier years I was pretty happy at school. And nothing changed. I was ten years old in 1956 and I had no concept of change, like upheavals or conflict or evolutionary development. I liked things the way they were, but you might say I knew of no alternative to the way things were. Like the song books. After recess at lunchtime, after we lined up in the hallway and had drinks at the drinking fountain, after we got back into our polished wooden desks all lined up, Sister Hubert told us to bring out the music books and she announced the song, which might go like this "Wait for the wagon, wait for the wagon, wait for the wagon and we'll all take a ride...."  I always enjoyed the singing. But in going over the memory last night, something occurred to me -- we had no choice. Did Sister Hubert ever ask us what song we wanted to sing? No. No choice. That possibility never crossed my mind.

Sister Hubert was tall and a little scary, not quick to smile. She had milky white skin and soft-grey eyes. You could see her face and her hands, everything else was swaddled and robed in black wool with a super-white starched collar around her neck. I liked her a lot, but it wasn't anything cozy.  

The nuns were of the Franciscan order, modeled after the life of Francis of Assisi, so they wore rope belts rather than leather belts out of simplicity. They lived in a convent in back of the school with its own entrance on Forest Avenue. I walked by the convent every day on the way from our house to school in the morning and every afternoon on the way back. I never saw anyone go in or out that entrance. The other way in or out was the kitchen door, and you might see a nun coming or going out that door, but not too often. Outside of teaching us in the classroom and guiding us to church and back, you hardly ever saw them at all. They stayed in the convent  I guess, but I don't know what they did in there. I wasn't curious. And it was always the same. 

I made a list because I remember each one of them distinctly and I liked them all except for Sister Virtunia in 7th grade who was an old sourpuss. Here's the list

Sister Thomasita  -- kindergarten
Sister Clothaire -- first grade
Sister Virgina -- second grade
Sister Laverna -- third grade
Miss Marshall, not a nun -- fourth grade
Sister Hubert -- fifth grade
Sister Laverna, again -- sixth grade
Sister Virtunia -- seventh grade
Sister Gregoire -- eighth grade

Fifth grade was my best year in playground baseball. I was usually picked first or second on the pickup team and I played first base, which had the most action, plus I was a good hitter. I was left-handed but I batted rightie. I got that way because my older brother Tommy was the same way -- left-handed but batting rightie. It wasn't important. Mostly I just loved playground ball -- and hated Little League with all its formalities and worried parents. In playground ball we made our own rules and picked our own fights. The nuns stayed out of it. Short of bloodshed they never interfered. We had huge arguments about whether the runner was safe or out, or whether the ball was fair or foul. The girls skipped rope and played other games, we didn't pick on them. And some of the gangly, non-athletic kids just stood around and didn't play, like Fitz Higgins, one of my good friends. He could not play worth a darn and didn't care either.

Fitz lived over on Chestnut Ave, maybe six long blocks away, you could go down Elmwood past the Murrays, or go down Greenwood past the Muenches and then turn left to Chestnut where the Higginses lived, with six kids, Biff, Fitz, Kathleen, Liz, Danny and Ellen. I liked the whole family which might be why I remember their names.

When I grew up six kids was a big family and three was a small family. We had five kids at our house I thought that was just right. Seven people in all counting Mom and Dad so there was always something going on. But we'll get to that later. I am writing this down in the order it comes from my memory, so it may seem scattered to you, but  you don't live inside my heart/soul/brain. I will be repeating myself and contradicting myself...... it's the natural order of things.  We lived in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. A French trapper named Ouilmette built a cabin there about 1820, near the shores of Lake Michigan. It grew into a village and they changed the spelling to Wilmette. Being near the lake, maybe one mile from our house, meant we had the best trees. Nobody told me this but I knew just from looking up in the yard, that we had the most magnificent oak trees and elm trees towering over our house, giving wonderful shade in the summer and giving strength in the winter. An elm tree in the front yard, three or four feet in diameter at the base -- that elm tree was Home for Hide and Go Seek during summer games after dinner. I'll get back to this  -- the trees and the games we played -- and talk about somebody I had not thought about in years  -- Billy Hoak.

Bill Hoak was my friend. He was a soft, pudgy kid with red hair and massive freckles. He didn't go to St. Joseph's school like my other friends. I don't even know how I met him. He was a year younger than me and went to Logan, the public school three blocks from where he lived. Billy didn't fit the pattern because he lived in an upstairs apartment with his mother. Just them. An only child and no Dad either. Not a problem. just different. All my other friends lived in a house and had a mom and dad and brothers and sisters. The mom stayed home and the dad went to work in an office  and wore a white shirt. I had no idea what the dads actually did at the office. That was too boring to even think about.

Billy's Mom had freckles too and she was very sweet and soft spoken. The two of them lived on Lake Street across from Vattman Park .... Vattman Park had swings, a teeter-totter and a jungle gym, plus tennis courts, but we only got to the tennis courts later during high school years. Sometimes we walked to Vattman Park in the summer to play, only three blocks,  down Forest Avenue, right on !5th St., look both ways crossing Lake Street and there you were. But I still don't know how I met Billy because he was a shy kid and didn't go outside very much. I suspect that Mrs. Hoak  might have known my Mom, and told my Mom they were new in town and Billy needed a friend -- me. No problem there.

This is where it gets really cool. I would go over to Billy's house to play and his Mom would give us both a dime, and that was for walking one block down Lake Street to Green Bay Road and the train tracks. It was the main intersection, although traffic was pretty light in 1956. We took our dimes to Shimineck's gas station and bought sodas. Usually Orange Crush. We sat on the curb and drank them. Then we walked back to Billy's house, only this time down the alley in back and we looked for bottle caps because we had a collection of different types, even beer bottle caps.

That's what we did. Just Billy and me, no games, no sports, no bike riding, just the walk to the gas station. And here we are looking for ethical guidance  -- the question that I always ask -- Did I hang out with Billy Hoak just so I could get a dime for the soda? Boy, that's a tough one. I did like Billy. He wasn't stupid or anything, but, not to put too fine a shade on it, I was going for the dime. Billy and his Mom moved someplace else after a couple of years. I didn't know where. But I can see the service station clearly in my mind. The soda machine, you could get grape soda or root beer or Seven-up or Coke. All considerations, except I almost always got Orange Crush.  We could sit on the curb and watch the cars come and go for a fill-up and ding the bell. Or we could peek in the repair bays with the hoods up and the mechanics in greasy overalls. These were men who fixed cars and used tools -- they actually did something.

I have something more to say about Sister Hubert, but this is enough for today. I enjoy writing this recollection of childhood.

Laurie and I are leaving on Tuesday, October 1, for a one-week visit to Seattle to stay with Eva, her wife Lara, their two-year-old boy Walter AND the new kid on the block, little Joey, just born, and six weeks old now. What a lovely family. We will also drive up the Skagit, then Up River, then up and over the Casade Pass to the eastern side and the village of Winthrop for a few days of sightseeing.

take care,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Priests, second time

By Fred  Owens
I am greatly concerned about the conflicts and multiple wars in the Middle East. I am greatly concerned about the rising seas, and the thousands of homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks of Los Angeles. I believe that an important part of moving forward and overcoming these daunting problems is to elect a new President in 2020. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts seems to have the buzz and the fury and the momentum, at least right now. I say let her run with it and let us see if she can overcome. She is not the only candidate and we are blessed to have an abundance of choices, but I say give her this week and join the chorus that is cheering her on. In the meantime, I pulled this old story out of the vault. It wakes you back to Saint Joseph grade school in Wilmette, Illinois, in 1956. Just a sketch, or a glimpse of another time and place. I hope you enjoy reading this.

This week's installment features sketches of our three parish priests when I was ten, that being the first part. The second part of this story was an embarrassment for Judy Muench in the third grade and later on it was a greater embarrassment for me. The third part describes Miss Marshall, our lay teacher in fourth grade. Not a nun. You could see her legs.

The cemetery was a key component of my landscape, being right up the street from our house. Dead people lying under slabs of marble with their names and dates chiseled. You could walk in there anytime and wander around. You didn’t have to be respectful like in church. You could run up and down the grassy aisles. And if we hit a ball into the cemetery we just hoisted ourselves up and over the cement wall onto the grounds and searched for the ball. You didn’t have to cross yourself or kneel or make an Act of Contrition.  Maybe teenagers wandered in there at night and did things we never even thought of. I don’t know. I only know it wasn’t spooky.
Up the street from our house on Forest Avenue, two blocks to the convent, then the cemetery, and on the same block was the playground and the grade school, and across Lake Street was the mighty, towering, brick church of Saint Joseph. The church was too awesome with stained glass and divine majesty.
Next to the church was the Rectory where Monsignor Newman lived with his bull dog and two assistant priests. Monsignor Newman was somewhere between  God’s best friend and God Himself.  Either way he was a most elevated person, and not a mean fellow.  Even in admonishment he did not strike terror into the hearts of small children. It only seemed extremely important to do what he said, if he actually spoke to you, which he did several times a year when he came into the class, with the bulldog, and handed out report cards from the sister’s desk in the front.
I always got a check mark for “practices self control,” meaning I was behaving like a whippersnapper, not totally out of control, but possibly subject to closer disciplinary attention. Monsignor  Newman would kindly point that out as he handed you the card, “Owens, it seems you have another check mark after your name. What can we do about that?”
I was too respectful even to answer back. I just took the card and walked back to my seat. Fortunately my parents didn’t care. It was times like that when I knew I had a good mom and dad. Or they just knew that I didn’t “practice self control” too well at home either. However, they also knew I didn’t torture stray cats and I was not headed for the penitentiary.
Back to the rectory. The other priests were Father Sauer and Father Bosen. We never, ever went inside the Rectory. It was a grand brick edifice, about the same size as the convent which held twenty nuns, while the Rectory held three priests plus a housekeeper who cooked and cleaned and fussed. Those three priests never had to lift a finger except they had to wear a black dress – cassock – coming down to their ankles – and hear confessions two or three times a week in a dark cubicle on the side of the church. Can you imagine how boring that might have been for Fr. Sauer, who enjoyed playing golf,  to sit in the dark confessional booth several hours a week and hear the same old petty sins over and over again -- I stole, I lied, I cheated, I had impure thoughts?
Impure thoughts was the good one, when they taught us to go to Confession in the second grade, because if you didn’t kick your little sister in the nose, or steal candy bars at the grocery store, then you had to come up with  something.  I had no idea what impure thoughts were, but it came in handy to fill out your quota of sins for the past month or so, because they made you go to confession. It was not like you had a choice.
So there was Fr. Sauer, dreaming of the golf course, but now hidden from view and sitting in the dark. You stepped in the door into this cubicle black as night and knelt down on the kneeler, and the priest slid open the wooden little door at the chin high opening, and then you had to confess something. You must have done something wrong.
“Bless me father, I have sinned. My last confession was two months ago. I was mean to my little sister although I didn’t really hurt her. I stole a candy bar at the drugstore, and I had five Impure Thoughts.”
That was good enough for a pass. Fr. Sauer, if it was him and you surely couldn’t know which priest it was sitting in the dark, would say, “Make an act of contrition and say five Hail Marys.”
Out the door and into the light. I knelt down on the padded riser in the pew and said my prayers of penance. I was willing to accept the general case of doing something wrong. I once said to Fitz Higgins, who read books in his leisure time, who played baseball poorly and didn’t even care that he played poorly, who began slouching even before fifth grade, who became an altar boy and seemed to enjoy that task, I said to him, “I know I did some bad things, but I can never remember what they were, so I just make up stuff when I go to confession, and then I think that’s wrong too – to make up stuff in confession. So what do I do about that?’ I asked  Fitz like he would know the answer. He didn’t know answer.
Fr. Sauer was dreaming about the putting green at the Evanston Country  Club. Par four and a whiskey sour after 18 holes. He was a handsome man and athletic. In summertime, on his day off, one time I saw him come down the Rectory steps from the front door, wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt over shiny pressed slacks.  I bet he had a girl friend somewhere.
Father Bosen was older and bald and not athletic and a bit detached from rambunctious school children. He had a smile which he put on his face for the children, and a warm chuckle.
He was probably gay, and probably celibate too, and cerebral. A private man, although he gave a good sermon at Sunday Mass.

I’m not done writing about the priests in the Rectory or the nuns in the Convent, or the school and the playground in between the Rectory and the Convent. Or the drugstore across the street from playground which was next to the cemetery. The drugstore where I bought candy bars for a nickel. And not, to be perfectly honest, where I stole the candy bars. I stole the candy bars from the grocery store.  Does it matter that I didn’t tell the literal truth to the priest at confession?
Look, I had to come up with at least three sins. Stealing, being mean to my little sister and Impure Thoughts. Years later I began having Impure Thoughts by the bucket.

By fifth grade we were still making jokes about Sister Beatina, the principal. She was enormously fat. Fifth grade boys can make a lot of fat jokes.
Another lunchtime classic that kept us laughing from third grade on was the Judy Muench disaster.  In third grade we had Sister Laverna. She was a small-sized bundle of energy who almost danced around the classroom. Such a lovely and lively women, we all adored her. Which was good because there were 63 kids in our class. This was a St. Joe’s school record that we took some pride in – the most kids in one class. It was a split class, the outer two rows by the window were fourth graders, and the inner four rows were third graders. It was controlled mayhem.
Judy Muench was a perfectly pretty little girl. I kind of liked her. She had brown hair in pig tails and a bouncy, hopeful smile. She wore a red and green plaid dress that day when Sister Laverna called her up to the front of the class for a recital. She came up to the front, a little nervous. She turned and faced her class mates in a rigid posture with her arms tensed. And she began peeing. Right through her dress and making a noisy puddle on the floor. “Sister, I’m going to the bathroom!” she cried with anguish, loud enough for the whole class to hear, and then she ran out the door and off to the girl’s room.
We dared not laugh. This was very awkward. Sister Laverna fetched a towel and wiped up the small puddle. Wasn’t this awful?
Little boys are not kind creatures.  Put four of us at the lunch table in the cafeteria, four trays, four cartons of chocolate milk. All the children laughing and talking. We told the Judy Muench joke for two years. Over and over again. “Sister, I’m going to the bathroom!” Laughing till we snorted. But at least we never teased her to her face. I always liked her. I walked by her house on the way to play with Fitz Higgins and if I saw her outside I said hello.
Just to balance this embarrassing episode, I will recount my own folly. Years later, in our senior year at high school, me and Doug Serwich and Nick Marsch got drunk on Country Club malt liquor. We broke into a duplex apartment under construction, just howling and throwing stuff around. The cops came and took us in to the station and called our parents. It was very shameful. Doug’s parents and Nick’s parents decided that I was the bad influence in this trio and forbad me from social contact with their precious sons.
My parents did not blame some other kids for my stupidity. The figured I was smart enough or dumb enough to make my own mistakes, so they said nothing about my choice of companions.
Truly, it was Nick Marsch who inspired this mini-crime spree. Nick was the second oldest of ten children from a very wealthy family. His Dad rode to work in a limousine. But Nick, who was smart enough to know better, became a midnight vandal, cruising the public junior high school near his house, breaking windows and tipping things over. Nick invited me and Doug to join him the night we got caught. Nick was basically responsible for the vandalism. Me and Doug could take credit for the drunkenness. Malt liquor – ugh!
But this was high school, many years after the Judy Muench incident in third grade, which was never mentioned but not forgotten. The Muench family was large. Mr. and Mrs. Muench were warm friendly parents. I really liked them.
So it was our turn to be embarrassed and ashamed.  We got hauled into the police station in Winnetka. Our parents collected us. Two weeks later we had a juvenile hearing, and our lawyer was Mr. Muench himself, in a grey three-piece suit with rimless spectacles on his nose and speckled grey hair around his ears, the epitome of dignity, standing before the judge, like a ritual repeated often enough in these leafy suburbs.
“These are not bad boys, your honor, but let this be a lesson to them, let them seriously consider how wrong it was that they acted. How careless it was to bring this shame on themselves and their families. We ask the court to be lenient because this was a first time offense. I know these boys and it will not happen again.” So we got off easy.

The other topic at the cafeteria lunch table was Miss Marshall the fourth grade teacher.  She had legs. This was astounding. She had legs because she wore a skirt and she wasn’t a nun. She was a lay teacher, the only one in the school, and you could see her legs. This was a matter of great fascination and discussion at lunch time.
She did not wear a habit. She didn’t live in the convent. She had her own home somewhere nearby and drove to school in her own car.  This was unusual.  Her dress  came down below her knees, and there they were – legs, bare legs, which was no different than what our mothers wore or what our older sisters wore, but at St. Joseph school, with all those nuns, Miss Marshall was different.  She wasn’t pretty, none of the kids said she was. But she was likable, far less stern than the average nun. I could tell her I needed to go to the bathroom and she would just nod her head, and then I could hang out in the john with my friends, because she didn’t keep track of how many boys had gone to the bathroom and didn’t come back. We had a way of making water balloons and throwing them out the window from the second floor. The nuns would never have let us get away with that, but Miss Marshall wasn’t strict and we liked her for that. And nobody talked back to her, because she stayed calm, and because the nuns would have found out and murdered us for that. Talking back was not done.
I loved the cafeteria. I loved the food. It was down in the basement. When class started at 8:45, the sisters took the milk order in each class room and everybody always wanted chocolate milk. It was a ritual – who wants chocolate milk? Everybody.
Down to the basement at 11:30, in line to check off our lunch cards, then grabbing a tray to go up to the steam counter.  Mrs. Tallman ran the kitchen. She never smiled like she was having fun or like she was glad to see us, but her heart was in it. Feeding all those kids, she was a saint, a stout woman in her late forties in a print dress, brushing a loose hair off her face, near to perspiration with running back and forth into the kitchen and coming back out with steaming trays – spaghetti, hot dogs, chicken, beef stew, grilled cheese sandwiches. I loved the food except for the beef stew. I loved the heaping trays of buttered French bread. They cut the slices on the diagonal from fresh-baked loaves and smeared them thick with butter and you could take two or three pieces. I ate a lot of French bread.

My life at ten was bound by Green Bay Road, Lake Street, the Ridge and the boundary with Kenilworth, another village.  I became geographically fixed on the grid. All the streets in all the towns and cities of the Midwest are fixed on a grid of even rectangles and squares. There are no hills to go around. No curves and very few diagonals. It is literally plane geometry and I always knew where I was. Being lost was not conceivable. As far as I knew the grid went on forever, out to the square corn fields to the west, and to the plane shore of Lake Michigan. In 1956 I had not yet become bored with this landscape.
To the north was Kenilworth, only three blocks that way, but a different town, not off limits strictly speaking but way, way uptown rich.  My little sister Katy went there to visit  Molly Packel. The Packels were  a large parish family and lived in a huge house with an expansive lawn.  Rene Packel was in my class. Rene was an exotic name for one thing, not Susan or Mary or Ann. She was Rene. And she was big and bulky, not fat, not stout, but just larger, so I liked her that way, plus she was smart. Like you could say something to her and it was all right, and she didn’t look back at you like you were stupid and stop bothering her. No, I had actual conversations with her, and I never tried to tease her. She was too big for that.
Those were my boundaries in 1956. Kenilworth, Green Bay Road, Lake Street, and the Ridge.
If you lived in someplace with mountains or even hills, you would not notice the Ridge because it was scarcely a rise in the landscape. Not higher than a two story building. You couldn’t even notice it was there, except everywhere else it was so flat. To me, at age ten, that was the hill and you could ride your bike down the hill without pedaling, even going a little fast. I never saw such a thing as a hill or mountain except in books or on TV.
The Ridge was a water divide. Water to the west flowed down the Desplaines River, which joined the Illinois River, and on to the Mississippi River and then  all the way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.  Little rain drops flowed all that way to the ocean. And then if the rain drop fell on the other side of the Ridge, then it flowed into Lake Michigan only one mile to the east, flowed into Lake Michigan and then slowly flowed through the straits of Mackinac to Lake Huron and then south to the St. Clair river past Detroit with Canada on the other side, and then to Lake Erie with Cleveland on its southern shore, and then over the Niagara Falls thundering to Lake Ontario. From there, past  Montreal, through Quebec, down the St. Lawrence River, always going east and trending to the north, that little drop of water flowed in to the Atlantic Ocean in the cold north country.
But the divider was the Ridge in our village of Wilmette, and one way flowed to New Orleans and one way flowed to Quebec.

Thank you for reading this little story. Next time I will write about Leroy the class bully. Leroy was his name. I'm not making this up. He was a large kid with a big wicked grin like Ernest Borgnine in From Here to Eternity.

thank you,



Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Monday, September 09, 2019

34 Divers Perish in Boat Fire off Santa Cruz Island

34 Divers Perish in Boat Fire off Santa Cruz Island

By Fred Owens

That's the headline. It's a $500 story and all I have is a 50 cent typewriter -- meaning I don't think I can give those 34 lost souls the respect they deserve and the silence which is their due.

The first responders have recovered 33 bodies. There is one missing. But they don't say it's missing they just say it's not recovered. So we wonder, who is this 34th diver, and is he or she missing and adrift at sea, or trapped too deeply in the wreckage?

We saw the FBI Dive Team unloading their scuba gear at the loading dock in the harbor. The Conception docks nearby, next to her sister ships, the Vision and the Truth. The FBI team and other divers from afar are charged with retrieving the bodies, submerged in 60-feet of cold sea water. The boat lies upside down. Do you think that's an easy job, even if it's people you don't know? And the coroner said they all died of smoke inhalation. That might not be true. Sometimes the coroner might say that smoke inhalation was the cause of death because saying they burned to death is too harsh on the families. As it was, the bodies were burned by the flames and could not be identified without DNA testing.  

Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown was present at the vigil on Friday in memory  of the departed ones. He and Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester bore the flower wreath in procession. Think of Sheriff Brown's duty. He did not expect this terrible tragedy. Maybe on the dawn of Labor Day, before he heard the alarming news, maybe he was day dreaming of some upcoming fishing trip and a few days off. He had a tough week. No rest for the wicked. No rest for you and me. 

We went out to the breakwater the next day to see the wreath on the memorial plaque, surrounded by many bouquets of white carnations. We walk out on the breakwater quite often, only this time in silence, "in memory of those lost at sea," as the plaque reads.

Keep in mind this is such a familiar place -- like many Santa Barbarans we are at the harbor and the waterfront and the beach almost every day. We see the island out there, 26 miles at sea, but looming large, if you can see it and the sky is clear. When the fog rolls in, what they call the marine layer, then you can't see the island.

I wondered if  anyone was walking the beach at 3:30 a.m. on Monday, because if the air was clear, that person might have seen the flames from the burning boat, leaping thirty or forty feet into the sky.

The investigation is underway to find out the cause of the fire. The insurance companies and lawyers are getting to work and filing papers. Maritime law creates a special liability for owners of ships at sea. The owners of the vessels and the surviving crew members will be interviewed within in inch of their lives. I pray for their comfort, because because nothing can bring back the lost souls.

Santa Barbara is not a big city. Everybody knows somebody. Anita Dominocielo-Ho, my friend at the Kiwanis Club, reminded me that her husband Victor teaches at a private school.  She said, "Victor and his ninth-grade class booked the Conception for a dive trip later in the month. It could have been him and all those sweet children on that boat." Stories like that are common around town.

Most of the victims came from out of town, but it still hurts really bad. That's our island out there. 
We will keep taking walks on the beach, but the island will never look the same again.

This morning I was awake at 5:30. I heard the hoot owl give a rhythmic chant as the darkness slowly faded. 

That's all for this week,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Monday, September 02, 2019

Facts Speak for Themselves

Facts Speak for Themselves

By Fred Owens

I was building facts at the newspaper this week. They have to be plumb and square and true. If you build your facts strong, they will last a long time. They won't move. You can walk away, come back years later, and those same facts will be there, like diamonds or granite.

I built a lot of facts this week at the newspaper. Some were off kilter or out of focus -- I had to throw them back into the sea of information. Information, data, the world is awash with it, meaningless, worthless, formless. But facts! Facts are worth something. They mean something. They are sturdy and reliable. You can build with facts. You can get paid for making facts. It's good work.

I wrote this in 2005 when I had my last newspaper job at the Wilson County News in Floresville, Texas. "You can get paid got making facts," I wrote. Well, you could get paid for that in 2005, but that kind of work is pretty scarce now. Nobody agrees what a facts is nowadays. It's your word against mine. You have Trump and his fake news tirades, yet he is the most complicated unabashed liar in world history. Or you can look to the left, to the academic world and discover a consistent message against objectivity. "It doesn't feel true to me. It all depends on the context."

Facts are disappearing. Words mean whatever you want them to mean. It's too scary.

The next story is by Bill Skubi, a friend of mine who lives in Coupeville, Washington. The story was originally published in the Puget Sound Mail in 1989 if you remember that obscure, quirky newspaper that I once published. The Puget Sound Mail promised “News of Lasting Value” and we kept that promise because this story about a man and his dog is not aged or dated.

Spending Time With Your Dog
By Bill Skubi

The frantic pace of modern life was catching up with me. I was taking a good hard look at the strange kind of person I had let myself become. This began a few weeks ago when Jan told me there was something wrong with Jackson’s ear. I was hearing what she said, but to my utter horror I realized that I didn’t care. Jackson is a lumbering old Yellow Lab. He has been my dog almost eleven years, slightly longer than I have been married to Jan. Just the week before I had caught myself actually trying to give him away to a friend who had moved his family into the country.
The excuse I gave myself was that Jackson was no longer happy living with us, since Jan insisted he be tied. The truth was that he was not happy because I had become too pre-occupied to spend any time with him. He was just this big, sad, obligatory maintenance retriever at the end of his tether. And so was I. That reminded me that it was I who had consciously fled the academic world fifteen years ago. At that point I realized that twenty years of schooling had trained me to read and write obscure sentences about “contingencies and non-linear variables.” At that rate I knew I would probably never live long enough to figure out what I wanted to say, and if I did figure that out, nobody would want to read it.
The writer in me wanted to git back home, do some plain talkin’, leave the footnotes, spend some evenings rocking on the front porch with a big ol’ hound-dog curled up at my feet. And I did it too, but the years brought marriage, a mortgage, and a child, along with career changes, and I let a whole new set of pressures come between me and my humanity. Or to put it another way, part of me woke up and was shocked to be sharing a body with someone who would offer to give away his dog. I really didn’t like the person I had become. I know I am basically an incurably selfish person. I attend church and take my marriage vows seriously knowing they are twin anchors on a spirit I know can be dangerously free, but I had forgotten that Jackson, too, was utterly dedicated to protecting me, and I owed him the same.
So I went to see what was ailing Jack’s ear. It was pretty sore all right, he was awful dirty and so was his house. I gave him a bath, and he was so proud to ride in my new truck and he didn’t even care he was going to the veterinarian. The vet had to keep him awhile to remove foxtail grass seeds from his ears. I went home, cleaned out his house and built him a new run in a place where he would have a good view of things. He was still a little wobbly on his hind legs from the medication when I brought him home. I showed him around his new digs and told him we would have to spend more time together. Then I noticed he was shaking uncontrollably.  At first I could not tell whether he was sick or reacting to the medication. Then I got down to where I could stroke him and discovered he was shaking from pure joy.
Philosophers and theologians will forever debate the highest possible achievement of man on Earth, and I would submit to them that being the object of such perfect love might be right up there.
Anyway, I bought a blanket at the thrift store for Jack to lie on in the truck. I can still be too busy to take him along, but we do have an understanding. And my young son asks a question that I remember asking, “Do dogs go to heaven when they die?” His mother isn’t sure how to answer. As for me, there have been times in my life when I have doubted whether or not heaven really exists, but I have never doubted that dogs would be there if it did.

My Favorite Movies, with a list compiled from memory and not nearly complete

The Vikings
The Grapes of Wrath
Viva Zapata
From Here to Eternity
North by Northwest
Hunt for Red October
Grand Hotel
High Noon
The Verdict
The Graduate
Broadway Danny Rose
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Godfather
A Bronx Tale
Dog Day Afternoon
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Terms of Endearment
The Quiet Man
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Wild Bunch
On the Waterfront
The Philadelphia Story
My Cousin Vinny
Ferris Buehler's Day Off
Lawrence of Arabia
Citizen Kane
Gone with the Wind
The Wizard of Oz
Do the Right Thing
Dr. Zhivago
The Shawshank Redemption
Field of Dreams
Singing in the Rain
Notting Hill
Bridget Jones' Diary

That's all for this week,
see ya,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital