Being Scratched

My dog Snoop is a hateful creature too much of the time. I’ve been told it’s my fault that the dog behaves that way. Folks say he doesn’t know who’s the boss. Since he was a pup, efforts to roll him on his back and into a submissive position have failed. There’s only one way to get the dog to lie on his back. That’s when the canine wants his stomach scratched. I wonder if scratching is a male thing in all species. It sure is for us men.

On a recent Sunday, a couple sitting in the front of the sanctuary caught my attention. The minister was knee-deep in the morning prayer, and because my personal talk with the man upstairs was finished, I opened my eyes and looked around. The man and woman sat with heads bowed, and what I noticed were her actions. Her hand moved gently back and forth as her finger nails scratched the man’s back. Her husband sat unmoving, as if the scratching had put him into a catatonic state.

I admit that one of the greatest joys of my life is having my back scratched. Actually, I’d rather had finger tips gently gliding across my shoulders, but I won’t turn down scratching at all. Even when my brother and I were young boys, we’d sidle up to Mother and lean on her as she scratched our backs. We’d stand in one position for as long as she’d allow us, and those were the only times we stopped for anything.

High school girls learn early the tricks involved in capturing a teenaged males. One of the best is scratching or rubbing their backs and heads. I used to have much more hair in those days, and sometimes a girl would rub my head as we sat with a group and talked in the band room before the school day started. Then the bell for class would ring, and I would walk to the room in a half-asleep state.

My wonderful, beautiful, loving wife Amy is the best of all. She is kind enough to scratch or rub my back on many occasions. The best is at bed time. I lie there while she moves her hand across my back for several minutes. She never lets on if the task wears her out. I also suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome and take Mirapex. However, sometimes the medicine doesn’t kick in or offers only slight relief. On those occasions, Amy will rub my twitching calf muscles for long stretches of time. God bless her!

From conversations with other men, I’ve discerned that we all relish those moments of scratching. Like my dog Snoop, we lose all aggression and become putty in the hands of our women. Maybe that’s why females do it—to keep us mellow. It’s for sure that they don’t have to deal with our griping and arguing, and we guys abdicate any claims to power when our women rub our backs. Probably the real truth of the matter is that women will put themselves out in this way because they don’t have to listen to or fool with us men.

Snoop growls and snaps at everyone but children. Come to think of it, most of us males do the same thing. Snoop’s stops such actions when he’s patted and loved. Ditto for men! I don’t know about you guys, but I’ll sit beside my wife and hope she scratches my back. If she does, Amy will have the most loyal friend she could ever find.

The Woods

The wooded lot on the south side of my house is filling up with leaves again. At one time it separated our yard from my mother’s. After her passing, I inherited an additional plot, so this shady spot now belongs to me. It’s been a place of pleasure for all my years.

During the earliest times of our lives, this tree-covered place served more as a catch-all. Our house was heated with a coal stove first and a coal furnace a few years later. The cinders from the expended chunks of coal were shoveled into buckets. Then my brother Dal had to lug those loads to the woods and dump them. Over time, large piles rose in the area. A fall across them meant painful scratches to any exposed flesh. A ditch of sorts ran along the west side of the lot. Daddy burned the garbage in a fifty gallon drum, and he disposed of cans that once held vegetables in that ditch. They cans have since disappeared after being covered by earth or rusting.

As kids, Jim and I played in this wooded place. We gathered small pine logs and built ourselves a cabin. The two of us also dragged pine limbs on the site to erect a lean-to. Many battles took place between us and evil Japanese or German forces. Cool fall days were spent at our fort. One time we caught a bat and kept it in a cage for a few days. It wasn’t the smartest or safest thing we’d ever done.

When Amy and I first built our house in 1978, Mother said the wooded area was a buffer between us. One stipulation she made for giving us ground on the back of her property was that we not wear a trail to her door. Amy and I kept our word. In 1981, Lacey was born. By the time she was walking, that warned-against path existed. Mother made it with numerous trips to see her granddaughter. Later+ she would stand at edge of the woods and watch as Lacey ambled down that barren strip of ground.

At some point Mother said she wanted the area cleared of undergrowth. I took my axe, shovel, rake, and clippers and began the process. It wasn’t easy. The first chore to complete to build a house here was clearing a spot. The briars and honey suckle and poison ivy runners were so thick that I had to crawl on hands and knees to the place where the house would sit. Clearing the rest of the land for Mother a few years later wasn’t much easier.

These days, a screened porch along the end of the house overlooks that wooded plot. Although the ground is no more than 100 feet in length, looking upon it is much the same as gazing at the national forest in the mountains. Amy and I find peace as we sit in the swing and watch the squirrels play in the tops of the trees and the birds swoop to the ground. Sometimes the neighborhood hawk cries out as it makes a pass over the tree tops.

The rains have washed away plenty of soil this year. I must find some kind of grass that will take root in the shady place to prevent more run off. That labor, however, is a small price to pay to have such a wonderful area on which to look. I’m a lucky man.

Whine about the Swine Flu

I spent that Thursday night fighting back wave after wave of nausea. It was a miserable times that was void of sleep. Evidently, the swine flu had camped out in my body. The experience wasn’t much fun.

Amy and I have been married for nearly 35 years. In that time, I’ve tossed my cookies only 2 times, both the result of inner ear troubles that set my world spinning. On that Thursday night, actually early Friday morning at about 5:00 a.m., the third time came. The dog demanded to be let out, and as I walked to the back door, the signs that things were coming appeared. Snoop went out, and I sprinted to the bathroom just in time. It was a terrible thing for a man who fights throwing up so much.

Another part of the swine flu is the aches. Every joint in my body, right down to my little toes, was sore. My muscles felt as if they’d just completed running a marathon or playing a game in Neyland Stadium. At times like that, no position is comfortable. My throat as just a bit scratchy, and I felt as if I were on the cusp of a cold. At first I wasn’t sure if the throat condition were due to a cold or from the yakking I completed.

The most prevalent part of this flu was tiredness. I spent all of Friday in bed, and I slept most of the time. Now, I’ve been known to take an occasional nap, but my staying flat of my back when the sun is shining has to mean something’s wrong. Amy came home about 6:00 and I’d just gotten up, but not for long. By 10:00, my fanny was again lying in bed, where I stayed until 8:00 the next day.

This attack of flu knocked me out of covering a couple of stories that were on my schedule. One was reset, but the other was a reception to which I’d looked forward. I probably could have attended the affair, but knowing just how much of a kick this flu has prevented me from leaving the house and possibly infecting a crowd of people.

The flu is something strange to me. Over the years, I don’t think the bug has hit me more than one or two times. Years of teaching built my immunities to all sorts of bugs that waylay most folks. However, having been away from school for a couple of years must have done away with it. I’ve now found ONE downside to having retired, but I can deal with it.

I teased Amy about the way I contracted H1N1 flu. For Thursday night supper she fixed eggs, toast, and SAUSAGE! Yep, I told her, the flu was the result of having eaten pork. My dear wife told me I was full of it, but I reminded her of other digestive disorders that I’d suffered which would have prevented me from being full of anything.

Amy left me sitting on the porch Sunday morning as she went to church. She claims I might still have been contagious. She took my greetings to friends there with the message that I cared too much about them to take the risk of spreading the bug. When she left, I grunted and lay back in bed for another nap. I hoped to be back to full strength soon. Then I would travel to one of my morning meetings to make a pig of myself on biscuits and gravy and, maybe, a piece of two of sausage.

The Smoking Pit

One morning last week I made my way to Sims Market and Deli to find out the latest news. The regular group of men was present, along with several Hardin Valley Academy students. Parents drop off their children at the market, which is located in front of the school. Most come in to order breakfast. However, some of the teens never even enter the store. Instead, they sneak around the corner of the store to light up cigarettes, and clouds of smoke billow across the front of the building. Things have sure changed since the times that smoking pits were in available to smokers.

In the old days at Karns High, smokers had a designated area where they could go to puff away. It was located along the wall of the gym and in front of the wood shop area. Guys would pour into the pit between classes to get a quick smoke. I was one of them, and we entered classrooms reeking of stale smoke. By the time the class was over, most of us were ready for another hit of nicotine.

To smoke in the pit, students (males only) were required to have a smoking permit that had been signed by parents and principals. Jim and I almost broke Mother’s heart when we brought those forms home, but she signed them anyway. Otherwise, the two of us would have been suspended from school when we were caught smoking without them.

Friendships were established in the smoking pit that lasted a life time. It didn’t matter that freshmen stood in the same space as seniors. Of course, younger smokers dared not to speak to older ones without being spoken to first. It’s been nearly 40 years since then, but occasionally I run into guys with whom I shared a smoke, and we are as cordial as back then.

Some of the toughest guys in school camped in the smoking pit during any free time. One was feared by freshmen and seniors alike, but once he became a friend, he was one forever and in any situation. My brother Jim developed such a friendship, and this tough guy had his back at all times. I wonder if the two would still be friends today. I’ve been told the guy has spent a bit of time in prison over the years.

A couple of times fights broke out in the smoking pit. One occurred when a big-mouthed freshman irritated a senior to the point that fists flew. The first punch caught the younger boy in the eye with the sound of two cinder blocks colliding, and immediately the orb swelled to the size of a tennis ball. Other times, even nonsmokers met in the pit to settle differences. Pugilists shed their shirts and went to it, most of the time with their heads pulled back and their arms wind-milling. Eventually, the fight went to the ground and the wiriest guy won.

Back then, smokers weren’t outcasts as they are now. All sorts of kids smoked, whether they did so at school or sneaked in restrooms and at home. Today, we’re smarter and know that smoking is a free ticket to lung cancer and all other sorts of illnesses. Still, something attracts young people to the habit, and then they are addicted to nicotine. Instead of having a pit, our country might decide to stop the production of cigarettes altogether. As an older guy, I now see how harmful those trips to the smoking pit and other placed were to my health. You’d think America would be smarter.