Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Town Dentist

In my hometown in rural Indiana, the town dentist lived across the street from my grandparents. We often saw him walk down the hill to his office just a few doors down, or back up again at the end of the day. I went to Dr. Cromwell beginning when I was small, and I remember his smile, and his sing-songy voice that gently lectured about the latest developments in oral hygiene while he worked, and the tray of fancy plastic rings from which I got to choose when my appointment was over.

I had minor dental surgery recently, so it makes me think about Dr. Cromwell. I miss that comforting feeling that comes from knowing someone since you were a kid.

Every Halloween, we trick-or-treated at the Cromwells’, and he or his wife would put a brand new toothbrush in our treat bags. When I was the 4-H Fair Queen at age sixteen, Dr. Cromwell let me borrow his little white MG convertible to ride in the Indian Festival parade. And in college, I called him one weekend when I was in extreme tooth pain, and he gave me the solution over the phone. I’ll never forget how relieved I was, to have him take care of me from hundreds of miles away!

Now in Vegas, I have a dentist who I’ve seen for 15 years, nearly rivaling my length of time with Dr. Cromwell. Dr. Hendrickson is also smiley, but he gives me dental floss and toothpaste instead of fake diamond rings. But at least I have a history with him, too. I can say he knew me when I was in my twenties! I guess he knew me when I was young, too.

p.s. George really likes chicken-flavored toothpaste.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


At the dog park this week, I sat on the bench with my book while George ran around, and it was a fairly quiet, uncrowded morning on the small-dog side. After a few pages, the metal gate squeaked as a woman entered with her schnauzer. The dog ran inside and straight to George, and the woman waited impatiently at the entrance for her daughter who straggled behind, thirty feet down the sidewalk.

The girl was slow because she was reading. Her face was hidden in the pages of a thick hardback she held up directly in front of her, but somehow she was able to walk the whole distance without averting her eyes, almost as if there were eye holes cut in the middle of the book so she could see through.

My mom’s voice drifted in my memory, “Get your nose out of that book!” Mom used to say that often, not to discourage my reading but to get me to put it down long enough to eat a meal or say a few sentences. This girl at the dog park was just like me, way back then with my nose in a book.

While the girl moved across the park to stand in the shade of a tree, I remembered another girl I had met a few years ago, in Hawaii.

It was early morning and my husband was still asleep in our beach rental. I sat in my usual chair and stared at the waves with my sketchpad on my lap. I usually took my sketchpad on trips but never felt inclined to sketch. This time, I had relaxed enough to be inspired. And since this was my daily morning spot, I decided to claim it on paper. I began by outlining the huge knotty tree next to me, with its curved branch that reached toward the water and the cluster of rope that hung from its trunk.

Suddenly a girl about thirteen years old appeared by the tree and said, “Hello.” She was freckled and skinny and looked up into the big tree’s branches.

I returned her greeting and continued my sketch while she climbed up the tree and sat on an upper branch. “Well, I found my reading spot,” she said with satisfaction.

A girl after my own heart, I thought. And sure enough, I saw her up there in the tree with a book several times during our vacation.

Readers share a kinship. We may read different books and sit in different countries, in varied houses and apartments and farms, but reading takes us to the same place.

Right now I’m reading Jane Fonda’s Prime Time, The Scarlet Letter, and The Greatest Generation, depending on my mood. What are you reading?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuppence a Bag

In the parking lot of the Walmart Garden Center this weekend, I noticed a large flock of pigeons sitting nearby. While pigeons aren’t necessarily uncommon in the city, the way they just stood there, or sat there, was odd. It seemed like they were waiting for something.

I went inside and looked around a bit at the end-of-season items, then I ended up following a man outside back to the parking lot. He called over his shoulder, “See ya!” to the cashier and carried a large bag under his arm. I didn’t think much of him until I noticed all the pigeons take flight when he came near.

The man walked to a car at the edge of the car, and all the birds – hundreds of them – followed him, circling around him and landing on his car. He opened his car trunk, almost oblivious to them.

But he was far from oblivious. I sat in my car and watched him through my windshield, and finally I saw why the birds were so interested.

He had just bought a huge bag of birdseed, which he opened and proceeded to throw huge handfuls onto the parking lot. The birds knew he was coming; he must do it every day – that’s why he was so friendly with the cashier. And that’s why they had been there, waiting.

He didn’t finish throwing handfuls until the ground was covered yellow and the birds were happy.

I like witnessing eccentric people. It makes the world more interesting.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Not-So-Helping Hand

This week gave me another opportunity to help an animal, or so I thought. I drove home from work one afternoon and sitting there in the driveway was a bird. I drove slowly, thinking it would fly away, but it just sat there. I parked my car and walked slowly toward it.

The bird was young. It had most of its feathers. Was it hurt? It looked up at me with its deer-in-the-headlights expression as I tried to remember what I had heard about taking care of a lost bird.

I vaguely remembered that sometimes you’re supposed to help and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you put it back in the nest and sometimes you don’t. For now I could at least get it out of the driveway. So I slowly crouched down and reached toward the bird, planning to set it next to a nearby bush.

When my hand was just an inch from the bird, he sprang to life and started running, his legs long but his wings stubby and flapping. Obviously he was too young to fly, and I ran after him to keep him from running into the garage.

Safely on the other side of the driveway, he again sat and stared at me. Where did he come from? Our trees had no nests, and neither did the neighbor’s. While I stood there, a mockingbird landed on the wall above the bird and started talking. The baby chirped in return and flapped his short wings.

Upset by the worry of the mother and the sad sight of the lost baby, I went inside and got on the internet. And I found my answer.

Apparently, baby birds who leave the nest (called fledglings) are the most kidnapped of animals, due to well-meaning humans who find them and think they need help. But the truth is that birds leave the nest before they can fly, and they spend two days to two weeks on the ground foraging for food. The baby travels up to a two-block radius and the mother keeps track of him and feeds him. They cannot fly at this stage, so it’s no wonder that people find them and think they’re doing the right thing by taking one in and caring for it. By the way, if you find a pink, obviously too-young baby, you should put it back in the nest. Or better yet, google “found a baby bird” and read what to do before you act.

We heard the baby and mother talking that night and the next morning, as the baby made its way around both sides of the house and on toward other adventures. George even got a little excitement when the baby wandered into our back yard. Luckily I grabbed him in time.

So I guess the point is that we should help, but we need to be educated in what we do. We shouldn’t assume that we know what an animal needs. It’s a good thing I did a little research. This week, google saved a bird from being kidnapped!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Goodbye, Saturn

Does your car have a name? If not, do you at least think your car has a personality? Do you talk to it?

I ask these questions because I sold my car this week…my silver Saturn that I bought new way back in 1999. It had 180,000 miles on it - 180,000 miles that the Saturn and I shared together, It and me.

So doesn’t it make a little sense that I felt guilty – and sad – when I let it go? I felt sad as I drove to the dealer to pick up my new car. Then while sitting in the dealership filling out paperwork, the Saturn sat outside warily as I tried to avoid its gaze. What was going to happen to it? Would its new owners take care of it and appreciate it as I had?

So maybe it was just a bit of PMS - typical emotional female stuff - but doesn’t it make sense that I felt sad? Twelve years ago when I bought it I was practically a different person. I grew with that car. It drove me, safely, across mountains and deserts, grappled with intense heat and snowy roads, endured my tears and laughter, through a major portion of my life. It was a good car, even if I never did name it.

Even today I still feel a little sad for that car, sold because it was too old, given away because it had too many miles, wasn’t as reliable. But I’m not crazy. Ever since cars were invented people have named them, personified them. My Mom always patted our dashboard and told our car it was a good car. Treat it right and it’ll take care of you. Movies and films have featured talking cars – cars with personalities like Herbie, KITT, and the General Lee. Why do we think of our cars as human?

Somewhere out there is my silver 2000 Saturn SL2. If you see it, would you give it a pat on the hood and say “Hi” for me?