Don’t Drain the Well

Tuesdays with Jo

When I was under 6 years old a Hobo—as we called them in those days—came to our back door asking if we could spare any food. Without hesitation, my grandmother fixed a plate of food for him.

My folks said that men would ride the rails, and when the train stopped in our little town on Mt. Vernon, Ill., they would sometimes hop off, find a bite to eat, and move on. I’m sure my grandmother knew of people facing hard times. It was no disgrace or dishonor, and if someone showed up hungry, you fed them.

I don’t know if the man had stopped at other houses before ours. We had a simple house, we weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich either, rather like the neighborhood, I suppose. My grandmother was widowed, had been since my mother was 12.  My father was in the war, my mother worked. We lived with no running water. We had a well in the backyard, the sort that was open on the top. The trick was to throw a bucket into the hole and draw up the water. I think there was a pump in the kitchen, so maybe we had a holding tank. We had an outhouse, electricity, and a furnace.

My Grandmother was an excellent cook. My stepdad said she made the best fried chicken, and I say she canned the best-pickled crabapples and mouth-watering dill pickles. Big ones, like you see at fairs, but her’s were better.

Except for the war hanging over our head–and I learned that war was the very worst thing that could happen. It surprises me that some people don’t necessarily feel that way, but I was young and innocent of the horrors I later learned and ran wild with the neighbor kids. We ate gooseberries that hung over the fence and sat under an apple tree with a saltshaker eating green apples. We put on our bathing suits in the summer and played in the water ditches, and we couldn’t wait for the first day of May when we could go barefoot. This was our way of living. We always had food, and my folks had the luxury of a car. I remember mom and her friends pooling their money for gas so they could go out on Saturday night.

Before my dad became a soldier, a mentally challenged boy lived next door. Often in the summers, my folks would get into water fights, and the neighbor boy loved it., He would egg my dad on, “Glen, I’ll get the water. I’ll get the water.” My mom would squeal and run up the stairs into the house. One time she broke her toe, tripping on the steps.

After being away from the house one day, we came home to an empty well. 

The boy had drained it.

It refilled.

Later my dad got a nanny goat, for he wanted to gain weight and had some stomach problems, and heard that goat’s milk would help. My dad would chain the goat to a stake and place it in various areas around the neighborhood to graze. The trouble was, no matter how deep he pounded in that stake, the boy would pull it out. The boy would then drive it around the neighborhood.  Soon the goat became so nervous my dad gave it away.

Why am I telling you this? I’ve been reading about feeding the homeless, and it caused me to think of Grandmother. And that sometimes it is not the most affluent who are the ones to help their fellow man.

I thought of the tent city in downtown Eugene, and with Thanksgiving coming up, I thought, why don’t we throw a couple of turkeys in the oven and take them down for a feast on the grass. I don’t know about the logistics of that idea or the health issues, but wouldn’t it be grand if when someone showed up hungry, we fed them?

Here’s a quote from a reader. She found it on the inside cap of her Tazo iced tea.

“Truth is so rare that it is delightful to tell.”  

There Lived in the Land a Handsome Prince

 When I was away from the house, my husband opened the front door for Gabe, our Rottweiler.

Outside the closed door, mayhem ensued. A motorcycle had zoomed up a hill that intercepted our street. Well, a motorcycle is to a Rottweiler as a rabbit is to a coyote.

Gabe chased the man who was frantically maneuvering his bike to avoid clashing with the dog until he finally out-ran the dog.

I knew nothing of this until two days later when the man knocked at our door and explained it to me. (Neither did my husband.) He said he had a young daughter and was afraid for her, and rightfully so. I said, “I would trust Gabe with my life, but I will never let him out the front door and will keep him on a leash.” That seemed to satisfy the man as I stood there quaking that he may demand some disciplinary action.

 A few days later, the man came to our street when I was walking Gabe and proceeded to make friends with him.

The man would often see us on the street, where he would drop to one knee, hold out his arms, and let Gabe run into them. I learned that the man was a Navy SEAL.

 I recently read about the rigorous training of Navy SEALs, including a 5-day sleep deprivation to prepare them for battle. Knowing how rigorous their training was, I was all the more impressed with how this man humbled himself and made peace.

 I wouldn’t have chosen a Rottweiler, and I didn’t. He chose me.

 Gabe came to us as a juvenile, almost full-grown but still with that slender gangling look of a young dog. He just appeared at our door one day. I tried to find a home for him, including tacking up posters around the neighborhood. Finally, after a week of no response, he became my dog.

I named him Gabriel because I said he was my guardian angel.

He had some sort of skin condition that the Vet said was caused by stress.  (Being homeless can do that to a dog or a person.) He prescribed shampoo that cleared Gabe’s skin, and love and a home cured his stress.

Most every morning, Gabe and I would run in the forest across the street from our house. Although we lived in a residential area of Eugene, the university-owned the land across the street, and it was left wild.

Gabe would ride with me in the car that had a fabric headliner. And since he liked to stand on the console between the seats—pushing me to go faster, I figured, his head would brush the car’s ceiling. So, one day, tired of trying to remove black hairs from the vehicle’s fabric headliner, I put a Babushka on him.

How cute was that?

We were building a house in Marcola, and Gabe and I would regularly drive to the building site. If I stopped along the way at a drive-through for coffee or whatever, he would wait patiently for a dog biscuit. He soon learned that all drive-through windows ought to give out dog biscuits. After waiting patiently, if a biscuit didn’t come through that open window, we would give them a good piece of his mind by barking as we drove away.

On one such trip to the house, smack dab in the middle of Marcola, Gabe saw a dead dog lying alongside the road. He did a quick double-take and looked quizzically at me. Surprised that he recognized the situation, I said, “Yes, it’s sad, isn’t it?”

During this time, my daughter lived in California, and on occasion, when she was sent on a trip, Gabe and I would drive down and take care of her critters. Her dog was a Great Dane. When I took a walk with those two dogs leading the way, I felt like I had a team of horses in front of me. Luckily, they kept together and didn’t go their separate ways.

On an evening, as the Valley River shopping mall parking lot had nearly emptied, I led Gabe to the car when two men walked past us. I heard one say, “Not with that dog, I wouldn’t.”

 I figured that day Gabe lived up to his name Gabriel.

                       There lived in the land a handsome prince, from my scrapbook.

Something to ponder:

“You will never get any more out of life than you expect. Keep your mind on things you want, and off those you don’t.” –Bruce Lee

Although Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940–July 20, 1973) is best known for his in martial arts and film, he was also one of the most underappreciated philosophers of the twentieth century, instrumental in introducing Eastern traditions to Western audiences.

He always carried a tiny 2 x 3” pocketbook with him which he filled with training regimens, poems, affirmations, and philosophical reflections. Images of his notebook that are perfectly readable, can be found at Bruce Lee’s Never-Before-Seen Writings on Willpower, Emotion, Reason, Memory, Imagination, and Confidence – Brain Pickings