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Posts Tagged ‘Boyhood’

When my family was much smaller and younger, we lived in a small Pacific Northwest logging community called Quilcene.  Now, one might read and so pronounce that name in a plain straightforward fashion like “kwil – seen.”  However, like almost all dialects of the English-speakers language, there are hidden sounds only the locals know about.  This is a sure fire way to identify outsiders (i.e. “people from not around here”).

Small Blue Boat Reflection in Port Townsend Harbor

Small Blue Boat Reflection

The local populace pronounces it “kwila-seen.”  It is the shibboleth (or is that sibboleth?) of the local dialect.   Fortunately, no one is killed over such a goof.  I believe the sound is correct and reflects the American Indian languages of the area (e.g. the Quilayutes).  It, after all, also being the name of the local tribe that used to inhabit the area.  (The Quil-a-cenes were later absorbed into surrounding tribes, most notably to the south on the Hood Canal in the Skokomish tribe.)  Unfortunately, some early English speaker’s attempt to Anglicize the word missed the short “a” and so we are stuck with Quilcene, which is much better than what the original American-European settlers of the area wanted to call it:  South Burlap.

Into this small community, my family settled.  My oldest son, Gareth, was a new-born.  A couple of years later, Cara, our oldest daughter was born at home.  Four years after, our youngest daughter, Julian, was born at home there too.  The locals quickly educated us on the correct pronunciation of the word.  This, along with learning that everybody was related to everybody else, was one of the most important lessons to learn in this small community.

Almost everyone in this community earned their living from the logging industry.  Those that didn’t were employed in some seafood related industry.  Oyster farms still do a thriving business there to this day.  Logging, however, will probably never be what it once was 25 and more years ago.  Our neighbor Bob was one of those hard-working loggers.

Bob was known for delivering firewood for many years around the Quilcene, Brinnon, Dabob areas.  He made a living doing the hard work of pulling out old trees, cutting them, splitting the cuts, and delivering it.  Most people relied upon wood heat to get through the cold, damp winters of Washington State.  “Bob the Woodman” was their main source for good dry wood.  Success at that allowed him to branch out into selective logging and clearing lots for people building homes along the curves of the Quilcene and Dabob bays.

Bob was a good neighbor.  Our properties joined one another on seven acres of wooded property.  Red Cedars and Douglas Fir inhabited most of the property.  This made a perfect play ground for my oldest two kids.  Of course, as conscientious parents, we were always careful to keep our eyes upon our kids.  Our oldest son had a habit of running off and disappearing from our presence.  This made us a little more paranoid than normal parents, if there are such things.

Seagull Reflection

Seagull Reflection

Despite our best vigilance, however, our son had a habit of wandering off.  This led to his getting into all sorts of mischief even before the age of five.  There was the time he showed up two blocks away across Highway 101 in his diaper standing in front of the local gas station.  There were the two separate occasions he discovered bald-faced hornets nests.  On the first occasion, he poked it with a stick.  He and his sister got stung.  On the second occasion, having learned from the first one not to poke it with sticks, he threw rocks at the nest.  He and his sister got stung.

As you can imagine, his penchant for exploration and getting himself into trouble only expanded as he grew older.  This explains his mother’s premature grey, his fathers premature baldness, and the slight twitch in the corner of both our right eyes.  Nature or nurture, whatever the cause, gets started awful early.  Too early in my book.  I think kids should be born educated and ready for the work force.  It would eliminate a lot of social problems.  Alas, but I’m not the Creator.  Good thing too, probably.  Giving birth to college kids would be incredibly painful for mothers.  And, how would you explain nursing?  “Come here, sweetheart!  It’s time for your lunch.”  “Aw, mom!  You’re embarrassing me.”

One of the advantages of raising your kids in a rural setting is that they learn so much by just being outdoors.  It truly is an amazing experience and opportunity.  I feel sorry for kids who grow up in the city and don’t know their way around a good wooded patch of ground.  My kids spent countless hours examining nature.  They learned a lot.

One time, my wife caught our oldest son, at about three years of age, exploring the biosphere of the upper canopy of the trees about 30 feet off the ground in his rubber boots.  He learned that, if he didn’t break his neck carefully descending the tree, his mother would kill him.  Another time, I taught my son about heat transference through convection with a steel burn barrel by telling him, “Don’t touch the barrel, it’s really hot”.  Then, he immediately tested my hypothesis by touching the barrel and getting a nasty blister on his hand.  Then, there was the time I took him to explore the mud flats of Quilcene Bay at low tide.  We were having the time of our lives seeing all kinds of tidal land creatures: hermit crabs, worms, clams, snails, and plant life.  About two-hundred yards from shore I suddenly realized he was barefoot.

“What happened to your boots?” I demanded to know.

“There way back there,” he pointed.

“Where?”

“Back there,” he kept pointing.

“How did they come off?”

“The mud took them off.”

I picked him up.  He still had his socks on but now they were as black as the mud of the bay and hung thick and wet about a foot down from his feet.  I held him out away from me as his socks swayed in the wind.

“Come on,” I said.  “Let’s go get your boots.  I think we’re done for the day.”

I reached down and pulled off his socks and then tucked him under my arm, carrying him like a sack of potatoes.  The extra weight made the mud pull on my boots too.  This was as much a father’s education as a son’s.

I looked down at him.  He was watching the ground pass underneath us.  “Did you have fun?” I queried.

“Yes,” he replied.  “I like the worms the best.”  He turned his head toward me and smiled.

“Of course,” I said and smiled back.

We found his boots stuck in stride just as he had left them.  The thought to stop and retrieve them or to put them back on again never seemed to occur to him.  I suppose he was too fascinated with the bugs and creatures and keeping up with his dad.

The problem with growing up in a rural setting is that property boundaries can sometimes be fuzzy.  Locals know one another and cross each others property almost at will.  Those really familiar with each other don’t even bother knocking on one another’s door.  They just let themselves in and yell, “Hello!?”  That’s country living for you.

This was difficult for my kids to learn also.  Our neighbor Bob had all kinds of fun equipment for a young boy to play on.  Gareth particularly liked the heavy equipment that would appear from time to time on Bob’s property.  He was always amazed at their size and imagined in his little mind what they could do.  One of his favorite pieces of Bob’s equipment was a skidder.  This is used by loggers to move logs around.  However, it doesn’t move anything when it’s batteries are dead because a 4 or 5 year-old boy was playing on it and pushing buttons.  It takes a long time to charge a skidder’s batteries back up.  Plus, it is not something Bob appreciated discovering when heading for the woods at 4 or 5 in the morning.

Broken Sand Dollar

Broken Sand Dollar

Bob had incredible patience with our son. I only heard him yell across our properties a few times, “Gareth!!”  By then, Gareth was almost always already home after we discovered that he had wandered off yet once again.  This let us know that our son had probably gotten into something.

As a logger, Bob had access to small seedling trees that were used to replant clear-cut areas.  Bob had a stretch of property on the opposite away from us that he decided to replant.  Good naturedly, Bob invited Gareth along to show him how trees were planted.  If they are not planted properly, they will die and the tree and one’s labor will be lost.  One must have a proper depth to the hole to make sure and get the full root system in the ground.  You don’t want any exposed root area.  Then, one covers up the roots.  However, the tap root needs to be as straight as possible, so a short, small tug is given on the tree when it is buried to help ensure this.

When investing in the life of the child, I believe it is important to give them, as much as is reasonable possible, exposure to many different things.  Who knows what will “take” in their little hearts and minds that causes them to decide to become a mechanic, doctor, nurse, plumber, lawyer, carpenter, or even forester.  Who knows the potential within the heart and mind of a child?

At the same time, who truly knows what is going on in those spaces?  When Bob returned from the woods the next day, he discovered that my son had pulled out all 100+ trees that he had planted with him.  Did they need to be recounted?  Did they need an “extra pull” to make sure they were straight?  Did they simply need to be removed because their place only appeared to be temporary?  We will never know, I suppose.  That’s a lesson we’ll never learn.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (October, 2011)

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They say dreams have meaning; whoever “they” are anyway. I do not remember most of my dreams.  As I have grown older it seems that my dreams repeat themselves.  At least, I seem to, in the middle of a dream, be aware that “I have dreamed this dream before.”  They also get more weird.  When I wake up, I have a very foggy impression that I had a weird dream again but for the life of me cannot remember any details.

Colin Almberg and Mt. Hood, July 2003

Colin Almberg and Mt. Hood, July 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

It is much more fun with my youngest son, Colin, however. He has a habit of dreaming out loud.  Since I am the night owl in the family and do not have to get up early for any job, I am frequently up very late.  So, I often hear my son talking in his sleep.  Whatever he is dreaming about seems to be very lively.  Like one of his Gamecube games, they tend to be very interactive.

One particular night, as I passed his door as I was shutting down the house lights and getting ready to go to bed, I heard him loudly talking, almost yelling. Concerned, I peaked into his room.  He seemed to be upset about something and was mumbling loudly.

“Perhaps it is a nightmare,” I thought to myself.

Out of genuine parental concern, I attempted to gently wake him. Without touching him, I whispered forcefully, “Colin!  Colin, you all right?”  This seemed to do the trick as he sat up in bed startled.  But then I knew he still was not in the real world when he declared, “I’m going to build you a mansion!”

“What?” I answered, quickly realizing how stupid it was to attempt to talk to a middle-schooler caught in dreamland.

“I’m going to build you a mansion,” Colin said.

Suddenly, my parental concern turned into, “Oh.  This could be fun!”  So, changing gears, I decided to enter “the rabbit hole” with him.

“You are?” I asked him.

“Yup,” he reassured me rather groggily.  He flopped back down onto his bed.

Wondering if the fun was suddenly over, I prodded with a question.  “How big is it going to be?”

“Big!” came the sleepy but assertive reply.

“That’s cool!” I said.  “Can it be near the ocean with a view of the mountains?”

He sat up again as if to think.  He rubbed his eyes, “Sure.  But it can only have six bedrooms.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to not sound too disappointed.  “Well, I’m sure that will be plenty for visiting family and the grandkids for the weekend.”

He laid back down again.

Wondering if my fun was over, I prodded again by asking, “How soon do you think you can have that done?”

Suddenly, Colin rolled up on on his bed and put his feet on the floor.

“What?” he asked.

“How soon can you have that mansion done?” I repeated.

His head jerked up toward me with a surprised expression, “What are you talking about?”  There was still sleep in his voice but the dreamland wistfulness was certainly gone.

“The mansion you said you were going to build,” I told him.

He got up and started out of his room.

“You’re crazy,” he said.

“What?!” I protested.  “You were the one who offered!”

As he left his room, I asked, “Where are you going.”

“To the bathroom.”  And he disappeared behind the hall bathroom door.

I smiled.  Kids are so much fun.  They have such great dreams.  Here, at least, is one dream I am hoping he has that will come true someday.  That would be way-cool.  Sweet dreams, my youngest, son.  Sweet dreams.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Gareth & Colin on Beach Triciycle, Seaside, Oregon, 2002

Gareth & Colin on Beach Tricycle, Seaside, Oregon, 2002

My son
the oldest son
is almost done
with growing up.

What’s up
with this guy
growing up
so soon before my eyes?

His eyes
now straight lines
into my eyes –
eyes that once looked up.

Sometimes,
my eyes still
see a boy
in rubber boots with toys.

Sometimes,
my eyes miss
seeing a man
mixed in with other men.

First it’s,
“Hurry up and
grow up!”
to the boy with his toys.

Then it’s
“Hold up!” and
“Wait up!”
from the fan of this young man.

What’s sad
for this dad
wanting bad
not to see before
my eyes

My son
the oldest son
almost done
with growing up.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The youngest of our children is a precocious boy. We did nothing to make him that way.  He just came from heaven that way.  As a family, we are learning to deal with it – with him.  This makes life more than interesting on more than one occasion.  On top of that, it has allowed me to learn some great lessons as a father.

His name is Colin. Pronounced like “callin’ home the cows,” not “colon.”  He hates being called a body part, especially the colon, and has no knowledge of former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Plus, he has the honor of having two middle names after his grandfathers Charles Stalnaker and Clyde Needham: Colin Charles-Clyde.  Perhaps his nomenclature played upon his early psyche to produce the character in him, but I rather believe God was in a rip-snorting sense of humor the day he came to us on January 15th of 1996.

One particular time in my fatherhood formation involved his duty to pick up dog duty.  We have never owned a dog or cat because of his allergies and asthma.  However, we were renting a house from some friends and offered to watch their dog while they were away for a year.  A parent should always know that there is bound to be adventure when you mix one Doberman-Labrador dog with a 9-year old boy.  Our desire to help our friends muffled our parental warning system apparently.

Of course, as is always the case in any family’s acquisition of a new puppy or kitty, 0ur children were excited to finally have a real pet.  Up until this time, the only pets they had known were a series of short-lived rats and one Siberian dwarf-hamster.  Having a pet larger than a desert plate was a thrill for them.  Cleaning up after something that created poop larger than soy beans was to be another matter entirely.

My youngest soon became “the poop buster”.  Any time the backyard where we kept the dog needed policing of dog waste, he was called upon for his assistance.  I would jokingly call, “Who ya’ gonna’ call?”  And he would smile and answer, “The poop buster!”  This worked well for quite sometime.  But, admittedly, dog poop patrol does get old.

Here lies the advantage of living in the upper Midwest.  A dog owner has a 6 month reprieve from picking up dog crap in the yard.  We lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where the Red River Valley descends into temperatures rivaling eastern Siberia in the winter.  It is flat as a table top.  The wind hardly ever stops blowing.  The snow that accumulates is of the freeze dried variety.  And the temperature is almost always below Zero Fahrenheit thanks to the valley’s ability to suck the air right down from the North Pole.

Thus, in the winter months, the family canine pet is only allowed out very briefly to do its business in the backyard snow bank.  Without any prodding by the pet owner, the half frozen pet scrambles back into the house as soon as the deed is done.  Our Doberman-Labrador mixed dog was short haired and had a disdain for the snow and cold that rivaled my wife’s.  When it hit -30 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, one almost had to pick up the dog and throw it outside to get it to go and do its latrine duty.  This must be done before every bodily orifice is frozen shut.  Then the pet must be allowed in to thaw and the procedure tried all over again.

The plus side to this for the pet owner is that no sane person will bother with the gastronomic remains of the pet until the Spring thaw, which would not be until March or April.  Until then, the owner can be completely satisfied to know that everything will remain where it is in its freeze dried condition until more moderate climates return.  Meanwhile, the pet piles will accumulate under layers of snow.  Any lemony patches of snow will soon enough be covered by blankets of white.  The effect is that the pet owner need not look out at a back yard littered with dog duty.  Nature has performed a wonderful service by covering up the dirty deeds in brilliant white.  It is, however, simply amazing how much one pooch can poop over the course of a winter.

Colin and Ron at Neskowin Beach, Oregon

Colin and Ron at Neskowin Beach, Oregon ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

When Spring did arrive for our family, we were surprised at the amount of dog doo left on the ground once the snow retreated.  One could barely make it out the back patio door and off of the deck.  It took careful tip-toeing to make it around in the backyard.  One miss-step and the consequence was an aromatic disaster as well as denial of re-entry back into the house.  Crossing our backyard was like trying to cross the Korean demilitarized zone littered with its land mines.  Nearly impossible.  According to my wife, if you stepped on one, you were on your own until it wore off or you thoroughly cleaned it off.  Meals could be pushed out the back patio door for you.

Finally, the inevitable day came where the job of thoroughly cleaning the back yard was necessary.  The yard needed its first mowing.  I will admit that it did occur to me that perhaps the mower would be a good way of picking up all that crap.  Upon further reflection, however, sanity returned and I decided that my lawn mower and that many poop mounds was not a good combination.  So, I called to my youngest son, “Who ya’ gonna’ call?”  “The poop buster!”, came the reply, though admittedly not with a lot of enthusiasm.  Seems pet care was starting to where on all of our family.

I recruited him and his sister, Juliann, to help me clean up the dog messes in the backyard.  We worked hard at it.  We had the proper store-bought pooper-scooper instruments and made great headway real fast.  When it was almost finished, I left them to complete the job while I went to get the mower ready.  Now, any parent knows that unsupervised children rarely accomplish anything on their own except for getting into trouble.  I, apparently, forgot this momentarily when I left them alone.

Frustrated at how slow the job was going, Colin complained to his sister that there had to be an easier way to do this job.  She suggested to him that, since they were mostly freeze dried from the winter, it would be easier to just pick them up with his fingers and put them in the bucket.  This bit of pure logic struck him as obvious.  However, somewhere in the recesses of his small developing mind a voice must have whispered a message of doubt.  Or, maybe it was just the “eww” factor.  So, he abandoned the pooper-scooper for a stick he found and attempted to roll the Almond Joy sized doggy chunks into a position to get them in the plastic bag lined bucket he was using.  The inefficiency of this method did not go unnoticed by my brilliant child.

Soon he abandoned the stick idea and bravely went with his sister’s ingenious idea of using his fingers.  Lo’ and behold!  Such speed and efficiency.  This could change pet and pet owner relationships forever!  Or, it could get you into a bit of trouble with your mother.

I returned to the back yard after spending some time getting the mower out and ready.  I was surprised to see the wonderful progress my two youngest children had made.  As I congratulated them and cheered them on to the finish, I noticed the odd way (apparently for older brains, anyway, it was odd) that my son was picking up the dog logs.  Curiosity got the better of me and stupidly I asked, “Colin, what are you doing?”

Rather testily he replied, “I’m picking up dog poop like you told me, Dad.”

Assuming he missed the real point behind my question, I asked more directly, “I see that, but why are you using your fingers to pick it up?”

“Juliann told me to.  It’s easier this way,” he replied as if I couldn’t see the brilliant conclusion he and his sister had come to on their own.  However, a glance over at Juliann revealed to me that she was still using the pooper-scooper.  I looked back at him and smiled.

“He is my son,” I thought.  “I’m going to have fun with this,” and returned to the house to find his mother.

I found my wife, Kelly, perched comfortable on the couch with a book and cup of hot tea.  To get her attention, I asked her, “What are you doing?”  After twenty-plus years of marriage she knows this game and gave the usual reply, “Painting the ceiling.”

I asked, “Did you tell Colin that picking up dog crap with his fingers would make the job easier?”  (I know.  I was baiting her.  I’m a bad, bad husband.)

“No!”, she replied, somewhat offended that I would even think such a thing of her.

I said, “Well, that’s what your son is doing out there…picking up dog poop with his fingers.”  I then disappeared into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and watch the events unfold in the backyard out the kitchen window.

Entering the kitchen, I heard behind me my wife exclaim, “What?!”  And before she was even outside where my son could hear her she started calling Colin’s name.  Very loudly.

To understand what happens next, one must understand my wife’s aversion to any animal waste of any sort.  She cannot tolerate it on any molecular level.  This is why our rat and hamster cages were weekly cleaned and thoroughly disinfected with professional cleaners.  Soap and water was never enough.  I, on the other hand, grew up with a menagerie of animals – dogs, cats, pigs, goats, ducks, chickens – and animal manure was something healthy people just lived with around them.  It boosts the immune system.  That’s why farmers and ranchers live such long lives.  Everyone knows this except my precious wife.

Kelly has a natural gag reflex when it comes to the smell of freshly trod upon dog poop. The hint of the smell will send her running into the house and lighting every scented candle we have available.  So, you can only imagine her reaction to finding out that our prized youngest son, our last son, was violating every code of cleanliness according to my wife.  She would have to do something fast before he would be relegated to a life of going about claiming, “Unclean!  Unclean!  Beware, I’m unclean!”

Once she reached the patio deck she had my son’s attention and probably the neighbors’ also.  “You get right in here, young man!  This instant!  What do you think you are doing?  You don’t pick up dog poop with your fingers!”  She said this as if it was a matter that everyone would understand.  But, alas, my son gets his intelligence from his father not his mother.

Colin protested, “But Juliann said to.  It’s easier and faster that way.”  He was obviously dumbfounded by his mother’s lack of understanding the profound logic of his actions.  “I only pick up the dry ones with my fingers, not the juicy ones”, he protested.

“Eww!  Gross!  I don’t care what your sister told you!” she declared.  “That stuff is filthy and will give you diseases.  Get in the bathroom right away!  And take off your shoes!”

Once in the bathroom, our son was made to wash his hands with hand soap and then Pine-scented Lysol several times.  Judged thoroughly clean and safe once again, his mother warned him to be careful about how he handled animal excrement.  He was sent out with the yellow rubbers gloves she uses to clean the bathrooms.  I returned with him to the backyard where he, Juliann, and I soon completed the task.  I then went to bring the mower around to the backyard and instructed the two of them to get our collections into the garbage cans on the other side of the house.

This should be the end of the story. It is not.  I had more lessons as a father to learn that day; instructions in Fatherhood 101 that I apparently had missed with my first three children.  I didn’t know that I didn’t know so much as a father.  But I am learning something new every time one of my kids gets up in the morning.  It’s truly amazing how much there is to learn in one’s short lifespan as a parent.

We had used plastic bags to line the buckets that we used to collect our doggy stool samples.  All that was left was to tie up the tops of the bags and take them to the garbage bin at the side of the house.  Meanwhile, I pushed the mower to the backyard.  Before starting it, I returned to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee to have with me when I took breaks from mowing.  While in the kitchen, I heard a large “Thud!” on the rooftop and then what sounded like pine cones dribbling down to the gutters.  I quickly returned to the backyard deck.

“What was that?!” I exclaimed to my two youngest children staring up onto the roof.

“Dog poop,” came the reply.  It was said as if I had missed something so obvious that I must be daft.

“What?!” I asked but not really asking.  It came more from an inability to process the information I was just given.  Older brains, it turns out, are less able to manage such simple data points.

“What did you two do?” I queried.

“I didn’t do anything,” Juliann said.  “Colin tried to throw the bag of dog poop over the house.”

“Why?!” I asked.  Again, this was not a question.  My old, wrinkly brain was just not able to process what I was just told.  I looked at Colin.  Probably from his point of view, it was one of those slack mouthed, dumbfounded stares that parents give when their brains are short-circuiting from trying to figure our their children’s behavior.

His answer was simply, “I didn’t want to walk all of these bags around the house.  So, I thought I would just throw them over the house to the garbage can.  The first one didn’t get very far.”

I looked at him. I looked at the size of the bags.  I looked at his scrawny arms.  I looked at the height of our roof.  I looked up into the sky.  I looked back at him.  Obviously, I was missing something.  Or, God was getting back at me for the fun I had at my wife’s expense earlier.

Stating the obvious loudly enough for our next door neighbors to hear, I said, “You can’t throw them over the house!  For the love of Pete, just carry them around to the garbage can.  NOW!”

He and Juliann scurried off with a few bags and I grabbed a few and followed them.  I wanted to ensure that no more monkey business ensued between the backyard and the 30-yard trek to the side of the house where the garbage can sat unreached by the moon shot over our house.  I then returned with Colin to the back yard where I boosted him up on the roof from our deck to clean up the mess he had made.

Looking sternly at him, I told him, “You pick up up every one of those dog biscuits!  Do you hear me?  I don’t want them clogging up the downspouts the next time it rains!  You get every one.  Now, here’s another bag to replace the one that broke.   Try and pick up the broken bag so that you don’t spill any more doggy do’s out of it….That’s it…now, pick up the rest scattered on the roof and in the gutters.  And don’t miss any!”

As I stepped back to get a better view of him, my young precocious son asked, “But what am I going to pick them up with?”

I smiled and said, “Use your fingers!”

I’m sure I learned some valuable lessons from my son that day.  It’s just that, for the life of me, I don’t know what they are.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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