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Tag Archive: death

Aug 12

We know a rare bird when we meet one — from archived columns first published March 7, 2008, in the Examiner, an eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper

Editor’s Note: From archived columns first published March 7, 2008, in the Examiner, an eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

whooping crane flying


“A rare bird on this earth,”
—Juvenal, a Roman poet and author of Satires.

Each day I receive a dictionary word of the day in my email inbox. Today, it is a Latin word “rara avis” (pronounced RAIR-uh-AY-vis), a rare or unique person or thing.

Immediately, I thought of my friend Nancy, a rare bird herself.

Not incidentally, Nancy was an avid bird watcher and that pursuit is part of what brought us together. I will explain in a bit.

I did not know her last name, not for the longest time anyway.

Still, I count her as a one-of-a kind, a rare find of a friend. We met in an exercise class in which we only use our first names. Over time we came to know one another, and eventually we got around to mentioning our last names.

You may have noticed I speak of Nancy in the past tense, but not with sadness although that would be a perfectly fine thing to do. Nancy lost a short yet valiant battle with lung cancer just weeks ago. Since she never showed a spec of melancholy, I will try not to either.

The “ladies of the three o’clock class”, as we affectionately call ourselves, loved Nancy. She was in her early 70’s I think, but one could not really tell for sure. She was sprite, witty, and doggedly determined to make her weight-loss goal. If you do, then you get to be a queen for a day and are awarded a paper crown, flowers, and heaps of praise.

In the last months of her life, Nancy came to exercise class with an oxygen tank in tow and worked hard to meet her goal. Nancy did not quite make “queen” before she died, but she was close.

So, last week the ladies of the three o’clock class gathered outside on an exceptionally windy day, said our good-byes to Nancy, gave her a symbolic crown, and released balloons in her honor as our “queen for a day.”

I promised I would get back to how I met Nancy because it had a lot to do with rare birds.

The first time I noticed Nancy she was wearing a sweatshirt lauding Squaw Creek National Game Refuge and its famed Eagle Days. Since I grew up just across the road from the refuge and knew about the rare eagles there, it was a natural way to strike up a conversation. So, talk about rare birds we did, on many a day.

Last week at the balloon release in Nancy’s honor, wind currents quickly caught the balloons taking them high above us where they soon mingled with birds, all manner of birds.

Nancy would have loved seeing those birds sail with her balloons.

A fitting good-bye to a “rara avis”, rare bird herself.

Sep 29

R.I.P Henry, the cat

“No amount of time can erase the memory of a good cat –Leo Dworken

In Greek mythology, a prologue is an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details that tie into the main story.

With that in mind, here is my prologue to a story I wrote three years ago about Henry, a neighborhood cat who could survive just about anything including a near-death experience in our front yard.

Since then during a fierce territorial feline war, another cat in the neighborhood bit a huge chunk out of Henry’s head. Henry lived.

In the last three years, Henry also successfully dodged cars that nearly ran over him and escaped the clutches of any number of malicious raccoons, skunks and bobcats in the nearby woods where he was the undisputed king of the forest. He fell sick a time or two from eating too many mice, but somehow he always survived whatever ailed him.

If you are counting, that is more than nine lives. Sadly, this unconquerable cat recently succumbed to something he could not beat–old age and infirmity.

Henry was resolute, determined, tough, lucky and yes, one stubborn, big fat cat.

I miss him already. R.I.P Henry.

Therefore in his honor and by reader request, I am sharing once again my story about how I almost caused Henry to lose one of his nine lives.

“A cat named Henry”

“In a cat’s eye, all things belong to cats.”—Old English Proverb.

A common belief is that cats were worshipped as gods thousands of years ago. Cats have never forgotten this.

With that thought in mind, let me introduce you to Henry, our neighbor’s cat and undisputed god of our subdivision.

Now as cats go, Henry is quite likeable and better than most in my non-cat lover opinion.

Do not write telling me how wrong I am about cats. Hear me out first.

Henry is a portly, orange cat that minds his own business most of the time, mouses in the nearby field, and stands guard over my koi pond.

I generally give Henry the benefit of the doubt when he does this and assume he is guarding my fish instead of trying to eat them. So far, Henry sits contentedly watching the fish swim, and that is fine with me.

The real reason I give him this much credit is because he is a tad too indolent to expend the energy necessary for fishing.

Thus, I never worry much about Henry knowing that he will not take up fishing in addition to mousing.

As a rule, Henry eyes me with the same wariness and circumspection as I watch him. We hold our ground and neither budges.

I suspect that in a match of wills Henry would win because as all cats do, Henry senses that I am not a cat lover.

His air of superiority lets me know that he “totally gets it” (pardon the common vernacular).

Henry exudes confidence as though he understands Faith Resnick’s quote that people who hate cats will come back in the next life as mice.

That could be me except for my cat-hating redemption experience, “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey says.

One Friday evening, we finished packing a trailer with our youngest son’s personal belongings and furniture. We were about to drive him on an out-of-state journey to begin graduate school.

We padlocked the trailer knowing it would not be opened again until the following Tuesday, four long days later.

The next morning I realized I forgot to put one box in the trailer and hurriedly opened the lock to toss in the small box and finally be done with the packing.

To my surprise and Henry’s (this is when he re-enters my story), as I flung the trailer door open, Henry and I locked eyes. He was inside the trailer and sitting on the barbeque grill.

Apparently, he had hopped in the night before while we were packing and no one saw him.

I am not sure which of us was the most shocked, stunned, frightened or relieved.

Henry ran for home, and I was overcome with compassion for him. Likely, he would not have survived the four days shut inside a hot trailer.

I saved Henry purely on a last minute whim, or let’s call it, a nudge from the universe, and Henry survived to watch my fish another day.

Henry is now my eternal friend and I am his, although both of us realize there will never be any affection between us.

I figure that saving Henry keeps me from returning as a mouse in the next life.

We are even.

Nov 12

Honoring Mark Twain 100 years after his death

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” –Mark Twain

One hundred years after his death, Mark Twain is “alive and well” by literary standards because he is still being published. Yes, on April 21, 2010, Mark Twain will be gone from this earth for 100 years but not gone from literature lovers.

Aspiring writers can only wish for such good fortune.

In April of 2009, a collection of lost Mark Twain stories was published by HarperStudio keeping Twain’s legacy alive. The 24-piece collection of previously unpublished works, gathered by editor Robert Hirst of the University of California, is titled “Who is Mark Twain.”

The Los Angeles Times in its book section, “Jacket Copy” wrote on March 5, 2009,
“The author, born Samuel Clemens, was widely published during his lifetime. But when he died in 1910, there was a tremendous amount of material that had never been shared. The publisher HarperStudio says he left behind the largest collection of personal papers created by any 19th-century American author.”

However, Twain might not be too happy about his new book, published in April.

“You had better shove this in the stove,” Mark Twain wrote to his brother in 1865, “for I don’t want any absurd ‘literary remains’ and ‘unpublished letters of Mark Twain’ published after I am planted,” according to Allison Flood in the guardian.co.uk on the Web.

I only recently ran across this information while browsing Facebook. There, I saw a Facebook cause “Honoring Mark Twain in 2010, One-Hundred Years After His Death.”

As soon as I saw this, I remembered that somewhere in one of the many boxes of memorabilia in our basement, I saved a Life Magazine from 1968 that featured a previously unpublished Twain manuscript.

Needless to say, I went scurrying to the basement to find it. And there it was, preserved quite well.

A quick Google search told me I was not the only one who has a copy. Drat. Turns out that on eBay, one can buy (for only $3.84 with shipping fees of $4.60) the Dec. 20,1968, edition of Life Magazine featuring the unpublished Twain manuscript, “Huck Finn & Tom Sawyer Among the Indians”. Not exactly a priceless relic.

Whether worth anything or not, the magazine and manuscript are invaluable to me, even though this particular Twain story was never completed.

As Missourians, we know well Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain). We understood his love for the Mississippi River; we remember his outrageous tales about the exploits of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn; and, we relish to this day his razor-sharp wit.

It is good to know that his writing will never cease to provide new insight and humor. Such as these oft quoted Twain quips, which are guaranteed to bring a smile today as they did 100 years ago:
• “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”
• “Be careful about reading health books, you might die of a misprint.”
• “Apparently, there is nothing that cannot happen today.”
• And my favorite, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

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