The Faucet

He twitches his right eyebrow and then his left. The late afternoon sun streams through the dusty window and lies sallow on his left hand. His right taps softly on the arm of his chair, causing little clouds of dust to spring up like smoky geysers. His mouth twitches somewhere beneath an unkempt and overgrown mustache.

Quite suddenly, his eyes pop open, and the bouncing beard indicates a prodigious yawn. He bounds from his chair and trots off to the kitchen. The lingering steam of his coffee beside the chair swirls in the wake of his going.

He opens the pantry door and then quite promptly shuts it. He turns on the faucet and takes down a cup from the cabinet. Taking the milk from the cooler, he fills his glass and sets it on the countertop. The running faucet catches his attention, and he turns it off.

Back in his chair, he puts his head back and closes his eyes. Momentarily, deep snores reverberate through the old house. The plaster takes on a soft orange glow before gradually growing dark in the deepening dusk. A few birds warble an evening song. Then all grows dark and still, but for the throaty snores.

A thin ray of morning light illumines a few dust particles. A mockingbird mimics the chime of five o’clock, and he jumps, startled from a pleasant dream.

Rubbing bleary eyes beneath his bushy brows, he stumbles to the kitchen and turns on the faucet. He takes a cup down from the cabinet. He fills his cup with milk from the cooler before setting it on the countertop next to the one from yesterday. Noticing the running faucet, he turns it off and returns to his chair.

Several hours later, he wakes and returns to the kitchen. He turns on the faucet and notices a beetle crawling on the window curtain. Leaving the beetle and the running faucet, he goes to his office, looking for a book about beetles. Upon entering his office, a shadow flickers across the curtains.

He turns from his office to go fetch his shotgun, but when he passes the kitchen door, he hears the faucet running. Hastily, he enters the kitchen to turn it off.

With a contented sigh, he leans against the countertop and surveys the kitchen with a dreary eye. The room lies dark, but then the noon sun bursts through the clouds and illumines the darkness. His eyes open in confused astonishment. Cups of rotten milk cover nearly every available space. A fat mouse, with curds clinging to its whiskers, blinks back at him.

“How horrid! He cries. “What is this?”

He turns to open the kitchen window to relieve the room of the putrid air, but then he notices the beetle on the curtain.

Advertisements

Reading

I have discovered that I can read a book best with a pen in my hand and a cooling cup of good coffee close by.

Don’t Tread On Me

I’ve been at my parents’ abode in Virginia, now, for a week or so, and I’ve made an interesting observation about license plates. Many of the automobiles in this northern region of Virginia sport a bright yellow plate bearing a coiled snake and the words “Don’t tread on me.” I find it somewhat humorous and ironic that even the harmless compact cars, hardly large enough to transport the typical middle-aged American male, also adorn their bumpers with these threatening pieces of metal.

According to the immortal, all-wise Wikipedia, the emblem on these plates and the corresponding slogan were first designed by American general and politician Christopher Gadsden in 1775 during the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin thought, for a variety of logical reasons, that the snake was an appropriate symbol of the American spirit—one reason being that the snake never initiates a fight, but strikes only when provoked. I wonder if, were he were alive today, Franklin would not find it necessary to adjust his views.

Unless I’m badly mistaken and grossly uninformed about the general intelligence quotient of our postmodern society, I would be humorously surprised if most of the individuals displaying this historic emblem would have the slightest inkling of its connection to the past. But, perhaps, society knows its history better than I.

I can think of a number of other likely reasons for the popularity of this yellow plate—the first being that it’s popular. If cool dude number one has a yellow plate on his bumper, then cool dude number two (who doesn’t think it expedient to be behind the times) quickly secures one of his own. Now we have two cool dudes with yellow plates. The rest of society, whether it thinks itself cool or not, rushes to adorn its own bumpers with yellow plates, because somehow it perceived that somebody with formidable sunglasses and judicious swagger put one on his. The color of the plate may, or may not, have impacted the choice of cool dude number one.

For a young generation that’s been bombarded and persistently pestered with overbearing parents, absent fathers, stressed out superstars, abominable advertising, suffocating social media, and bewildering world news, the last thing they want is somebody to step on them and squeeze out the last breath. Maybe that’s another reason for the yellow plate. Its message—don’t touch me, don’t hit me, don’t invade my space—is a feeble and pitiful plea for respite, for a break from the chaos. Maybe people find the inundation of information and the depressing deluge of life to be too much. Maybe Facebook, with all its glorious self-portraits, has made people so tired of people that they cry for uninvaded personal space. Don’t tread on me; I’m so tired of people that I just might bite your head off.

Beneath this cry to be left alone is, perhaps, a deep, seething anger. As the number of school shootings continues to rise, I think this becomes more and more evident. Somebody doesn’t go into a school and slaughter his fellow humans because he loves God, people, or his pet gerbil. No, he does it out of hatred. He does it because he hates life and despairs of it. He does not kill people for the fun of it. Go into the grocery store and observe how parents relate to their children. A cursory and uninformed observation would indicate that parents care about as much for their children as they care for a cricket in their coffee. No small wonder, then, that these brats lash out later in life. Don’t tread on me, because my daddy didn’t love me. Step on me or get in my way or look at me cross-eyed, and I’ll kill you. See my license plate?

A vague impression of yet another reason lurks in the murky and nebulous regions of my consciousness. I wonder if, perhaps, the American individual, including the female individual, sees itself (the neuter might be appropriate here, since most Americans don’t know what they are anyway), as being invincible, omnipotent, capable of squashing any annoying fellow human. Beneath the slogan of the plate, lies the assumption that I have the power and the right to rectify any situation that angers me. This superman (or batman, or whatever—pick your TV hero) mentality rages at his stupid neighbor and says, “Oh yeah? You’ll see. You’ll pay for this. I’ll smash you to bits and grind your guts to mush.” Don’t tread on me, because the force within me will rip out your soul and send it to hell.

Perhaps more could be read into this seemingly innocuous piece of yellow metal, but perhaps I’ve already guessed too much.

A Student’s Biography of Her Grandmother

One of my tenth graders wrote a short biography of her grandmother. I was so blessed by it that I asked her if I may publish it on my blog for others to enjoy.

Faithfully Following

Robert Slabaugh found himself flying through the air and across the ditch. He landed on his feet and immediately turned around, because he expected to see the truck right behind him, but it had gotten stopped by a tree. He had been hauling a load of pigs, and the truck had flipped. He hadn’t gotten a scratch, but some of the pigs were injured, and others were killed. With the help of some others, Robert got the pigs into a nearby fenced in area. The next day they caught the pigs by their respective tails and loaded them into another truck. Robert’s wife, Irene Slabaugh, didn’t know that her husband had been in an accident until he got home.

Going back to January 17 of 1942, we hear the screams of the newborn baby, Irene Lambright. She was born at home and the doctor came out to her parents’ house. Of the eleven children that Jacob and Alma Lambright had, Irene was the youngest. She had six brothers and four sisters. A little over nineteen years later, on May 6, 1961, Irene Lambright became a Slabaugh.

In January of 1969, Irene and Robert Slabaugh moved down to Paraguay with their two adopted children. When they left, Irene saw her dad cry for the first time she could remember. They had gone to help start a colony, and it was over 100 degrees there at the time. The land they were to live on had no buildings and was covered with trees, stumps, and other things that you would find in the bush.

Irene and Robert had to clear a path onto their land. Irene ran the tractor while Robert handled the chains to move the stumps, and the first time Irene walk down that path she looked up and said, “I see only one nice place, and that is straight up in the sky.” While the couple built their house, which was about half a mile down that path, they lived in a little cabin that the minister and his family had built.

When they first got there Irene didn’t know what they would eat. She had to learn what mandioca, something kind of like a potato, was and how to cook rice. They hardly ever got potatoes, but every now and then they would buy them from a bigger town for a treat. One of these times, they were having mashed potatoes and a native ate the meal with them. He didn’t know what they were, and he started to spread them on his bread!

One day someone asked Irene and Robert if they would adopt a child. They agreed that they would, and after it was born in 1970, they went to they clinic to get it. Lisa was a small baby and Irene laid her in a doll bed as a crib.

Four years later they adopted Nelson in Asuncion. On the way home in the bus they asked for milk to feed him, and they were given something for him to drink. Nelson had seizures, which made it more difficult to take care of him.

Due to the difficulty of taking care of Nelson, Irene and Robert decided that they had enough children, but in 1980 they were asked if they would take another child. The mother couldn’t take care of it, and after it was born she abandoned it. They ended up taking the child in and they named it Elmer after Irene’s brother, who had died since their move to Paraguay.

Some of the hardships that Irene faced were things getting stolen and learning a whole different life style. There wasn’t any electric, and communication with her family was quite difficult because they didn’t have telephones. She and Robert had to make their own living and they didn’t really have money. It was especially hard for her when other couples that had come to live there didn’t stay, and at times she was homesick, especially when she knew that the family was getting together and when there were funerals.

During the time they lived in Paraguay, Irene lost four immediate family members: her sister Viola, her father, her brother Elmer, and her mother. They died in that order, and she was only able to attend the funerals of her sister and mother. When her father died, Irene went upstairs by herself and had her own little funeral. In her mind she was at the real funeral, but in reality she was still in Paraguay. The Lord gave her the strength and courage to go on.

Another thing that happened was the hepatitis epidemic. First Robert got sick, and he had to go to the hospital. After he was home, Irene also got sick and had to go to the hospital. Later, when they were coming home from the hospital in their pickup, they were both feeling bad, and by the time they got home they both had to go to bed. Other people from the colony had to come and take care of them and their children.

Despite all of the hardships that she had to overcome, there were things that Irene enjoyed about living in Paraguay. She had always enjoyed working outside, and she got to do plenty of that. Also she enjoyed meeting the people, natives and colonists alike.

After fifteen and a half years, Irene and Robert moved back to the United States. Irene had turned 27 a few days after arriving in Paraguay, and when they left she was 42 years old. When they were trying to get their passports, Irene had the children and their important papers. She was on the bus and when she got off she was watching the children, and too late she realized that she had left the important papers on the bus. She cried when she realized it, and she did try to catch the bus, but she didn’t. She was, as any person would be, hysterical, and a kind couple helped them while they were getting new papers.

When they first moved back to the United States, Irene and Robert lived in Indiana. They later moved to Texas, and on the way down they got lost. They were driving separate vehicles and somehow got separated, but they eventually found each other again.

Today, Irene and Robert have been living in Texas for twenty-five years. Irene believes that it is by God’s grace that their lives are how they are now, and said, “It’s a miracle that we even made it.” She trusted in God to lead her through all the hardships she went through, and her life is an excellent example to for the rest of us to do the same.

Killing the Bear

The sprawling old house clung to the side of the mountain, overlooking the valley. One day a young bear came to visit the house on the mountain overlooking the valley. He stuck his nose in places he should not have and browsed around for something to eat. The inhabitants of the house found him amusing and entertaining, since he was so young and could not possibly do much harm. He was only a little bear, so he did not bear the menacing potential of the grown grizzly.

The young man of the house also enjoyed watching the little bear, but he did not like it very much that it was so comfortable being close to human habitation. He went for his gun, because he knew that someday it would be a big bear.

He retrieved his gun and waited for the right moment to shoot that furry little creature. His family thought him mean for wanting to kill such an innocent little animal, but he heeded not their distress. The little bear stood on his short back legs, making himself look very cute and comical, and it was then that the young man put a bullet through its heart.

“How can you be so cruel?” wailed the young man’s sister. “I liked that little bear. He looked so very sweet and innocent. I should have liked to have him for my pet.”

The young man looked his beautiful sister in the eye and said, “True, sister. The little bear was most cute and adorable, and it nearly broke my own heart to kill him. When he stood on his little legs and cocked his funny head, I almost could not bring myself to do it, but I knew I must. You see, the little bear is really just a cute form of something terrible and menacing. Should you have caught him for a pet, he would have won your heart and stolen your affection. Too late you would have realized that he had become too big for you, that he had become your master and you its slave. You must remember this always, dear sister, that sometimes the thing that looks the most cute and comfortable is not always safe.”

 

Landing Flight 1549 on the Amazon

It actually happened in South America, not in the state of New York. I know. That’s what the big shot media says happened, but they’re just a little bit off. Let me tell you how it really happened.

Flight 1549 was actually flying over South America, somewhere in the vicinity of Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, when it struck some birds. Actually, I should say “we,” because I was on the flight. I was one of the passengers, so I have first-hand information here, although I must admit that it might be a bit fuzzy, because the whole thing was fairly traumatic.

So, we hit the birds, and then things kind of went south. Air traffic controllers tried to get us to some nearby airport, but the pilot was too stubborn to take any advice. There was one airport that we very likely could have reached, but the pilot thought he was such a big shot that he didn’t need to listen to other people’s advice. He was gonna do it his way. So he landed that sick Airbus right on the Amazon River. Yes, sir. He landed that Airbus as if it was a Seabus. Some dude out on his fishing boat caught the whole thing on video. I can’t remember too much of it, but the video shows us coming down, hitting the water a little too fast, doing a nice big hop, and then settling down nice and easy.

Well, it wasn’t actually that easy. The pilot had to maneuver around a whole menagerie of fishing boats, cruise ships, and what-not, but he got ‘er down without hitting any of ’em. Well, almost. There was one loony ship that was right in our flight path, I mean, our water path, and the dumb captain couldn’t steer worth a dime. I was sitting right by a window, and I saw that crazy ship comin’, and I knew it weren’t going to be good. Sure enough, he went roaring right past my window, smacked into our wing on the starboard side, and ripped it right off. At least he missed the fuselage. That could’ve been bad. I guess he just kept right on going, because I didn’t see him again.

The next thing I recall, we’re bobbing down the Amazon like a wet duck with one wing clipped off. I don’t remember any rescue ships or anything, but somehow me and my sister and another fella were the only ones on the plane anymore besides the captain. Kind of strange, but the plane seemed awful empty. We were just a bobbin’ away down the Amazon.

But then we hit something. At first, I thought we might have hit another ship, but no way; we hit land, and for some crazy reason, there was a railroad track running right down the middle of it, and we was on the track, and there was a big old mean train tearin’ right after us. Well, the captain put his brains to good use and mashed the throttles all the way forward, all the way to the firewall. The only problem was that we had lost one of our engines when we hit the Amazon, but it was still enough to go clippin’ down that track pretty quick, and that track kept us real nice and straight.

We went faster and faster until we left that smoking, belching, roaring train a ways behind us, and then we ran out of track. It just kind of petered out, I guess, because all of a sudden we didn’t have no track to keep us straight anymore. The whole plane went skiddin’ sideways, and then the engine quit working. And then everything came to a screeching stop. And there we sat. Well, we actually got out of the plane, surprised to even be alive. The whole thing was kind of crazy, if you know what I mean.

So we walked around the broken airplane and scratched our heads about what to do next, and all of a sudden that train must have gone by somewhere real close and hit a nasty bump, because one of them sea containers—two of ’em, actually—came out of nowhere, spinning and bumping and crashing straight toward us. We all jumped off to the side, and that container went hoppin’ off into the jungle somewhere.

And I’m afraid that’s about the end of the story, ’cause that’s when I woke up.

Why Be Happy?

I can think of all kinds of reasons for not being happy. In fact, the reasons are so numerous and compelling that I’m often not happy, and I don’t mind sharing those reasons. I would, after all, be quite sad if you didn’t know why you should be sad.

You should not be happy, because the world is messed up. The world is broken, screwed up, twisted, corrupted. You need only to walk down some hideous alley to see for yourself. Broken windows, sagging doors, mangy dogs, evil cats, hungry children, tattooed criminals, and reeking dumpsters speak all too clearly of brokenness and corruption. The next time you feel like being happy, just think of a stinking back alley, and the sweet cloud of despair is sure to darken your day.

I thought I had a long list of reasons why you should not be happy, but, come to think of it, every reason I have comes back to the fact that we live in a messed up world. Somewhere way back in the dark past, some lady fell prey to a talking serpent, and now the world and all of life is just plain messed up and broken. Our relationships with God and fellow humans are now nothing but dismal shadows of what ought to be. We try to get to know each other, but we can’t. Actually, most of us don’t really want to know other people; we would rather live in our cracked and crusty shells, safe from the prickly shards of brokenness. We try to talk to God, but he sits behind a granite cloud, it seems, incapable of hearing our feeble, hollow, shaky prayers. Broken relationships is an excellent reason not to be happy, but, like I’ve already mentioned, this stems from the brokenness of our world.

When that talking serpent beguiled the lady, he introduced to a perfect world that hideous thing of rebellion, the dark and sinister attitude that cripples every honest institution. God had a place for Lucifer, but it wasn’t good enough, so Lucifer became the devil by virtue of his rebellion. Now, our world is full of rebellious little devils, because most of us don’t want anybody telling us what to do. The really bad little devils become criminals and end up in correctional institutions and holding pens, commonly called prisons. Criminals, generally, are quite unhappy. Why? Because they got caught for their misbehavior. They sit in prison, because someone judged their conduct unethical and damaging to society. If you think you want to be happy, just think of all your tax money that goes to paying prisons whose chief purpose is to clothe, feed, and house bad guys who, more often than not, come back. Again, this reason stems back to the first—namely, that our world is broken and corrupted.

If, after considering these several reasons, you’re still suffering from happiness, allow me to offer a few more. We have, so far, considered rather generic reasons. There are many other, more specific ones. Making breakfast, for example, gives ample opportunity for things to happen that could deepen the gloom. I like my toast toasted just enough to have a light brown hue, but it can happen that while I’m rubbing the sleep out of my eyes I fail to notice that the previous toaster operator left it set to the extreme. Five minutes later, the toast gleefully explodes from the machine, having completely changed its atomic structure. No longer is it bread; it’s now nothing but a crunchy slice of carbon. That, my dear reader, is reason enough to stumble around all day with my head in a black cloud, a cloud emanating the aroma of badly burnt toast.

Many, many more possibilities regularly present themselves, but here’s another specific scenario that could easily evoke much unhappiness. You’re on your way to a friend’s wedding, driving your brand-new 2019 Volkswagen Jetta when the oil pressure light comes on, the motor gives a hideous clanking and banging, and the car grinds to a shuttering halt. I think, unless you’re some strange, unearthly human, that you will find it fairly easy not to let yourself get too happy. This might be an extreme example, but it is generally true that vehicle failure, or failure of any kind of equipment, gives us grand reason to put away happiness.

Maybe the most compelling reason for embracing unhappiness is the death of someone we love. When cold Death steals the last breath of our friend or family member, the cold, steel rain of despair washes away all traces of happiness. It is quite easy then to allow ourselves the sweetness of cynical despondency and depression. Happiness is hardly a temptation.

I think you’ve probably caught on by now, dear reader, that I’ve been writing somewhat facetiously. I really do not intend to convince you that you should not be happy. In fact, my goal is just the opposite. I want you to find hope and happiness, even in the face of what appears to be utter hopelessness and despair. Frankly, I don’t have an easy answer to this question. I don’t really know how to be genuinely happy, even if everything is going well. I tend to be gloomy just because I have a hard time coming up with a good reason to be happy. My natural orientation is toward gloomy cynicism. But that’s not the way it ought to be. I think we ought to be happy, simply because that’s the way God wants it.