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Last One out the Gate

A little bit of Love
In one short month Bethany Love Foreman will graduate high school with honors, many evidenced at the time of this writing as she returned home from the academic awards night, with again enough certificates to make a fan; but this path started long ago.
Bethany was born smiling, the last of the Foreman girls born; but born with a big heart that matches her smile. As a small child she had many ear infections that lead to a delay in speaking clearly. In elementary school in South Range there’s a yearly Christmas play. Due to her trouble with speaking she was given a part with another young girl who was shy and had trouble speaking to crowds. They shared one line and they did fine but there was a bigger story behind that line. I was told later that she would read to the other girl in class, to work on her speech, and to include the other girl who had some special needs. To hear that your child does a good deed is great but to hear that they did it on their own; that’s even better. Bethany had to deal with her dad coming in as a Germ for the Germbuster’s program and to this day many of her friends remember me as the Germ and for being her dad.
As she grew she tried out for everything, from being a sealion in the Little Mermaid, taking Judo lessons, playing soccer, basketball, volleyball, band for the whole ride, (a percussionist like her dad), and 4-H for years; all before high school. In high school she was active in theatre carving out her own roles, the lead one year, and a cheerleader even when she didn’t have time to do it fulltime. Can you tell I’m proud? As a senior she took psychology at Gogebic, (but not from me), and is currently wrapping up Trigonometry; all while working and getting all A’s as a student at Jeffers. Bethany will graduate third in her class, and hopefully with scholarships to help her as she enters MTU this fall; the best part is she’s going into psychology, not to teach like me, but into forensics to use that great brain to help solve crimes someday. My heart is aching as I write this so let’s get to what I hope for her as my last child out of the gate.
I made a deal with my girls with the middle names of Hope, Faith, and Love, that if they could go through high school with good grades, no “troubles” (I’ll let you define that), that once they graduate they would be adults in my eyes; still dad’s girls, but women ready for the world. Both of her sisters earned that right, the right to be an adult at 17 in Hannah’s case, (still “adulting” quite well), and Briana at 18 now finishing her second year at EMU also adulting well. Now it’s Bethany’s time to shine, (earned as well), and here’s what I hope happens.
Bethany Love, my youngest, my baby, (no matter how old you’ll get you’ll always be the baby), I trust you to make decisions that make you happy, productive, and content. In four years I hope to sit and watch you get your first degree, and then another, until you’ve reached your goals. Along the way you’ll make friends, (and sadly lose friends), find jobs and lose jobs, find love, and keep it. But remember this, no matter the troubles, the trials, the triumphs and losses, I’ll be there for you to give advice or simply listen. No go show life a thing or two; I love you.

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When Depression is Winning

This isn’t a post you’ll see on Facebook or Twitter. This would never appear in Family Matters; this is personal. I resisted texting my wife today a text she has seen many times, “depression is winning today”. There are days when I sit silently in my chair, the TV is on, some mindless sports are on or some bargain hunt property show on HGTV, but I’m not there. I’m “fiscally motivated”, I like to work because some day I want to retire. I want to go to bed when I’m tired and get up when I’m not. I presented the go to bed philosophy many years ago and was told that’s not a real goal. Normally I can’t pinpoint what’s dropped me into the dark zone but today’s depression is easy to track.

On Monday night I was pondering when I can or should retire. My original fantasy of 55 won’t happen and when I do retire I don’t want to work, at all, with the exception of selling things or cash jobs for fun, but nothing structured. I decided to look up what my Social Security will be and when I can retire with that as part of my income. The age, 67, works, the dividend, (I say dividend because if SS folds the government best give me back what I’ve put in and my employers have put in over the years or I will revolt), is $1500 a month. My teaching retirement for online at 67 should be $300 a month and whatever else I set up in the next 18 years say $200 a month; $2000 in total. In my mind that’s not enough; cue depression. I currently have a contract to design a class and some training’s that do make money but the depression is winning, energy non-existent.

Part of my process is to write it out. In the past I’d go shoot hoops but bad this and bad that prevent me from doing that. Write it out….wait it out….fight it out; beating depression isn’t the correct term; living with it is. This is part of writing it out, then I’ll start on one of my projects, make money, feel better; sadly this will always be a losing proposition.

 

 

Car: A Love Story

 

 

There’s an author out of Wisconsin by the name of Michael Perry who’s a local legend, okay maybe that’s a stretch, (sorry Mike), but he produced a fine piece of literature titled “Truck a love story”. The book chronicled his struggles with independence from gardening to fixing up his 1951 International Harvester. The “love story” was about him finding his wife and starting their life together, where I thought it was about the truck. Shortly after reading the book I emailed Michael that I needed more truck and less love story. He emailed me back from a laundromat in New York to apologize and to this day I follow his website, his Facebook page, and have read most of his books, (Jesus Cow is on my to be read list).

This column is Car: A Love Story, no it’s not about gardening or about fixing up a classic but it is about my love affair with cars. My first ever car was a Town & Country station wagon that weighed over 5000 pounds and had a 12-foot-long hood. My theory was that my mother knew there would be a learning curve so with that tank of a car I would be safe no matter what I hit or what hit me. From there it was the famous Sunbird that I shared with my best friend Erik, a couple of Chevy Impalas, and a couple of Dusters along with three Chevettes, all before turning 20. But my greatest love affair with cars is the world famous Dodge Neon.

The first Neon was Bubba, white with a lot of miles and a lot of charm. Bubba served me well and even survived a deer collision, denting up the fender and adding a cute little crack in the window. When Briana turned 16 and could drive it was destiny that she would drive Bubba. After a short period of time Bubba decided to throw a rod, (through the bottom of the block), and bleed oil all over the street. When I gave Bubba to her I had my silver Neon, which I had from only 10,000 miles and that journeyed from a lot in Florida to the UP. With Bubba laid to rest, yet another Neon fell into my lap, a purple one, a five-speed stick shift. Briana drove the silver neon and I the purple. College time came, and freshmen can’t have cars, so I sold the purple neon and back to silver I went.

Briana learned to drive on silver, Hannah and Bethany as well. I put one bumper sticker on silver and Briana said, “Dad that’s embarrassing”, so I continued to add stickers with the last count being close to twenty. Three weeks ago, I was driving to Baraga when the engine light came on, then the oil light, and then the car simply stopped running. I pulled over to the side of road, called a tow truck, and started the grieving process. The prognosis was a timing belt, could be big damage, and at this point silver had 149,000 miles on it; she was dead. I went out and bought a boring car, named it Forrest and passed the bad news to the kids.

Then a miracle happened, I went to the garage to retrieve the license plate and there, in the stall, silver was running. It turns out that the belt did break, but no other damage occurred. So now, my neon, my silver, was fixed but not needed. Silver will sit under a tarp until spring where hopefully she’ll rise like the phoenix and be driven again. I love my cars –not like, love. They mean something to me. Memories of trips, kids, and life. I doubt I’ll ever buy another Neon, but I know that I’ll always look because there’s always another love story waiting to happen.

Ashes to Dashes

Four years ago on February 21st I lost my brother to both his cancer and a fire where his lungs could not survive the smoke. I’ve tried to find a way to memorialize him with making the fire damaged home into a homeless shelter, the public didn’t want that “in their back yard”, and now I’d like to create a place of peace. Somewhere to go to spend time to grieve, to unlock your tears, to find inspiration from others or spend time in the yard that he loved. This Kickstarter will do just that, kick start getting this house back up to speed, to share with others and be a place of comfort and joy once again. If 5000 people give just $5 the goal will be met and within a year this home will be a home again. Take the time to watch the video, please, and donate if you can if not spread the word to others. Take care.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1435107429/ashes-to-dashes

Vows have Double Meaning (Family Matters)

Until death do us part.  A few weeks ago there were obituaries of a couple who both had passed away within a short time of each other.  This is what we think of when we utter those words, “til death do us part”, right?  In a society where fifty percent of all marriages fail it seems like this vow should be changed, or should it?  If fifty percent fail then fifty percent succeed until one dies.  In the case of the two obituaries; sometimes the separation is short until the one mate follows the other.  The joke behind the fifty-fifty rule is if the marriage doesn’t fail then it lasts forever.  To fundamentalists marriage is a commitment under their Creator that should honor the vows spoken.  I’m going to provide an alternative meaning to that time tested vow.

I’m in the first fifty percent, the failing part.  I was married for the better part of ten years.  I have three daughters from that union and had great in-laws and learned a lot from that experience.  Here’s where those who have never been divorced can start.  It’s the same as those who have never had children giving advice to those who have, it’s pointless.  I had countless people tell me to not get divorced, stay married, “do it for the children”.  I can honestly say I got divorced for the children.  Children have one shot at growing up, one, no do-over, one shot.  That shot could have been one of unhappiness, one of being forced into the vows that two young people spoke long ago.  Here’s where I say that the vow isn’t wrong, it’s all in the interpretation.

Divorce is death.  The stages are the same.  There’s your anger.  You’re angry that somehow you’ve angered your Creator by not obeying the vow.  You’re angry at your spouse and yourself for not fixing the break, correcting the mistakes and making it alright.  You’re in denial, denial that this thing, this fifty percent chance went the wrong way.  You bargain with yourself that maybe just maybe you can let the past slide and start over without the anger, wrong again.  I honestly can’t say I know all the stages of grieving nor do I want to look them up, but I know after awhile you accept the fact that your marriage is a failure and you move on.  The problem sometime is that not everyone moves on.  Remember the three children?

My youngest was two when the separation started.  The constant “why don’t you live with us” question was difficult.  When I started dating again and the hatred real or perceived towards my now wife was difficult.  The most difficult time was one evening when we heard my oldest crying.  I stood at the door listening as she cried and talked about not being part of a family anymore.  That one hurt.  We both went in and talked to all three of them and told them that not only are they part of a family; they now had two families.  More people to love them more people to help them when they’re hurt and more people to give them gifts, just kidding on that last part but I’m sure that managed to make it into their brains as well.

The next time you have a friend going through a divorce don’t just remind them of their vows; remember that there’s two sides to every story and a new interpretation of a vow isn’t always a bad thing.  Lastly, be there for them and let them grieve no matter what side of the fifty percent they sit on.

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Spills, Burns, and cracks in the table top

We sit at the same table, a nineteen fifties Formica top of white with silver glitter.  A large round melted spot sits in the middle a reminder to always use a hot pad or a trivet when trying to serve spaghetti in a hurry.  Some smaller melted spots still contain the ash from a forgotten Lucky Strikes; make that many forgotten cigarettes or cigars of various brands.  The metal  trim around the edge contains fragments of meals from Christmas dinners to Thanksgivings, baby showers and probably a crumb or two from the coffee cake that was served the day Uncle Larry was laid out in the parlor of the old house.  My father sits across from me.  His wife-beater stained almost as colorful as the table.  A trail of coffee tears down the front, the yellowing in the pits and what’s either blood or strawberry jelly on the seam which thankfully is beyond the open door of his pajama bottoms.  Our eyes never meet as he slowly dunks his hard toast in his tar black coffee.  Espresso wouldn’t have a chance up against his six scoops of pure Columbian coffee.  I sit on the padded silver flaked seat with the same metal trim as the table; being ever so careful not to pull out any of the stuffing  leaking out of the cracks.  The newspaper I’m reading separates us physically, life separates us emotionally.  We don’t speak to each other.  We bounce off of each other as if force fields surrounded us, even the narrow hallway of this third story apartment can’t make us touch.  By the indentations in the couch and the sweat stains left on the cushions one can only assume that that’s where he spends his days while I work to support us.  It wasn’t always like this.

Uncle Larry’s funeral was in our old Victorian home; my mother justified the funeral being there because at one time it was a funeral home with its pocket doors and heavy curtains to muffle out the sound.  She loved the attention of the guests, the fresh flowers in every vase. Even the Coke bottle in the downstairs bath held a single carnation.  My father was a great host and inwardly happy over the fact that his more popular more successful brother had died before him.  Most likely to succeed my ass is what my cousin Evelyn said she heard him saying as he stood in front of the casket.  Dad toasted Uncle Larry a fifths worth of Jack Daniels before anyone figured out that he didn’t give a crap that Larry was dead.  His eulogy included “sorry son of a bitch” and “creepy little bastard” before my mother could interrupt him and apologize to our guests who were nodding in agreement and would have let him continue concluding with thunderous applause.  Being an only child, this display from my role model left me thinking that my chance of life being anything but screwed was at best minimal.  At fourteen though I still supported my father and joined him as we peed in the big planter of flowers on the back porch.

The divorce didn’t come right away; in fact they stayed together for the sake of me, great idea.  Four years of fighting and disappointment spread through that house like crabs across a college campus.  My father lived in the den, the same den Uncle Larry was laid out in.  Occasionally he’d come out for food and beer when his mini refrigerator ran out.  I graduated on a Saturday, Dad moved out on Sunday.  I followed suit moving out a week later.  The divorce became final a month later.  The house sold quickly, the auction of contents brought in enough cash for dad to get a MG Midget and a cruise ship companion in her twenties.  Mother moved in with Uncle Larry’s wife and traded in the Town and Country Wagon for a pink scooter and matching pink helmet.  I went to college.

Did you know you can get a BA quicker if you never leave the campus and just take classes year round?  In three and a half years I had a BA in Business Administration and in no time I was a General Manager, at Taco Bell.  My dreams were a bit larger but Taco Bell fit my dysfunctional existence.  I rented the third floor apartment, furnished it from Goodwill and bought my first used car that wasn’t at least ten years old.  It was the early eighties so my seventy-eight Sunbird with the sunroof was a major step up from the Pinto.  That car had the Firebird steering wheel without the price of an engine twice the size and without the big bird on the hood.  The seventy-nine Sunbird added a hatch back eliminating the trunk making it look like a smashed in Firebird that shrunk in the rain.  It was about this time that the letters started coming from Aunt Polly.

Dear Alex, your mother needs you, she’s isolated, she’s started to drink, and she’s this and that.  I ignored the letters.  It wasn’t until Dad wrote that I realized that I needed to do my sonly duties and visit.  It was the first letter from my Dad that didn’t include a request for money.  “Alex, it’s your mother.  I think she’s finally taken that last step to un-shuffling her deck if you know what I mean”.  I think a simple your mom is nuts would’ve sufficed.

I went to Aunt Polly’s on my next day off from my fast food life.  I pulled my brown Sunbird up the curb, twelve inches away, as I had been taught by Mr. Snodgrass.  There on the porch was my mother, Marietta Freemont, pink helmet on, yellow scarf around her neck and no sign of her scooter to be found.  Hello mother I said with no response from her.  Aunt Polly came out of the house and gave me a hug and explained to me that she hadn’t taken that helmet off for a week.  I asked where the scooter was.  She told me that one night my mother had been drinking at the Pink Lady lesbian bar on thirty-second when one the she-males made a crack about the helmet.  My mother as I was told calmly got off of her stool and cracked the butch out of her.  On the ride home she rode closer then twelve inches to the curb, jumped it and cracked her scooter in half off the library steps but not her pink helmeted head.  Aunt Polly said that was two months ago, about when the letters started.  I asked why she contacted my father.  A guilt trip later about my non-responsiveness and “a who else would I call” comment made it perfectly clear, somebody had to commit her and that somebody was me.  The hospital took her helmet away but let her keep the scarf.  I promised I would visit.  She died there of an unknown cause.  Probably some crazy butch lesbian who wanted a yellow scarf, or a heart attack or cancer, I didn’t ask for details.

Fast forward ten years, Dad’s turn.  I never married, fear of mental illness and alcoholism or maybe just the fact that I’m an asshole.  He called on a Sunday night and asked if he could stay with me for a while.  Barbie, now in her late thirties, left Dad the minute he bought a mini-van and stopped taking cruises.  I had the three bedroom apartment still and was now managing a Wal-Mart working sixty hours a week so why the hell not.  After all he was still my father.  This brings us back to the present; I folded up the paper and nodded to my Dad, wiped my coffee ring off the table and tossed the paper towel in the trash.  My Dad scratched his sack, smelled his finger and walked over the couch, sat down and turned on the Price is Right.  I put on my jacket and grabbed my keys for my Miata, turned to look back at my dad with one hand on the remote and one in his pajamas.  Maybe he could be a greeter some day; I’ll have to look into that.

 

 

 

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Green Grass and an RV

The grass was never greener, the sun never brighter and a grave never deeper.  The hydraulic hum as they lowered Maggie into the grave drowned out all the “I’m so sorry for your loss” and “she’s at peace” comments that were being forced into my skull. I tossed a spade full of dirt into the hole wondering why I had bothered to toss in a rose if I was only going to bury that too.  The crowd thinned, the pastor gave me his last bit of encouragement and left me there, alone, standing next to fresh earth and a granite stone that read Margaret James, with born and died dates freshly etched.  If only the dash between the dates could tell the story of her life.  It couldn’t, and neither could I.

I decided that the scenic route back to our empty house was a better option then the route we both had traveled a hundred times.  The curves of every corner had trees of temptation and the guardrails positioned by the bluffs never looked so weak.  I waited for a deer or in this neck of the woods a cow that could easily, if I hit hard enough, easily erase my grief and put it on the shoulders of others.  I didn’t see any deer and cattle were all fenced in but what I did find seemed like an answer to an unspoken prayer.

The for-sale sign was faded; the phone number was readable but unnecessary.  The overalls and faded ball cap and interest in my presence led me to believe that farmer Bob was the proud owner of what was a 1988 Mini Winni resting in the high grass.

“What’s the asking price?” I said with a nod in not Bob’s direction but Chuck which in farm land was close enough.

“This here is a 1988 Winnebago with only 78,000 miles on her 454 eight cylinder engine”. Chuck said after introducing himself.

“So what is the price on the 88’ Winni, Chuck?”

“And you are…”

“Dave, David James.”

“Well Dave, I’m asking $4500 but would be willing to take four”.

“Any interest in a trade, like my 2001 Ford F-150, straight up” I asked.  I’m not sure if the silence that followed was shock or a growing distrust for this pale skinny “city boy” who just offered a nearly new truck for something that’s been shade for cows for at least a year.

“Straight up, what’s the catch Dave” Chuck asked as his eyes darted back and forth between the Winnebago and my truck.

“The catch Chuck, that Winni has to start and you need a clear title to exchange for my clear title which I have in the glove box ready to be signed over to you.”  Chuck looked at me again like he was trying to see if I had prison orange under my suit or psych ward escapee tattooed on my forehead.  Without saying another word Chuck climbed in his 88’ Winnebago and fired it up in one try which I guessed was a daily ritual.  I could see him fumbling with the visor as the engine purred.

“Clear and clean Dave, if yours is the same you got yourself a deal.”  I went back into the truck, grabbed my briefcase and laptop from behind the seat.  I pulled the title from the glove box leaving behind my insurance papers, a map or two, some Juicy Fruit and a half pack of Marlboros.

I had never driven an RV before but I didn’t think that it would take me too much time to learn how.  I only curbed it once on the way to the DMV to get new plates making the call to my insurance agent on the way to speed things up.  The yellows and browns of the plaid upholstery weren’t pretty but the old farmer had kept it clean.  The carpet was worn in the appropriate places and the refrigerator only had a couple scratches on it which I suspect were from magnets.  I called my daughter, who hadn’t made it back for the funeral due to having said her goodbyes already.  The pause before a cell phone rings is always a reminder that in that split second before a phone is answered that everything could change.

Maggie had been a health nut, in the nuttiest sense.  She ate bark and drank slurry of prunes and milk for breakfast.  The bark was a multigrain bird feed looking mixture that to me was just bark.  She ran five miles a day, did yoga and slept a full seven hours a night.  She was an investment banker; my nickname for her in the warmest sense was “my retirement”.  I wrote short stories and an advice column for our local newspaper, neither of which would have provided us with any kind of life that didn’t involve living in a tent.  She skipped her annual pap one year due to traveling with me around the state promoting my first book; a collection of short stories about our life.  Irony doesn’t wait long to bite you in the ass.  Cervical cancer, fast acting, too fast; from diagnosis to death less then six months of wasting away and when you’re fit there’s very little to waste.

If Maggie’s death were an accident or murder I would’ve been the prime suspect.  My personal net worth before her death, a 68’ VW Bug, a collection of first edition books and about eighty five bucks in a coffee can.  Net worth after her death, after funeral expenses, about a quarter of a million bucks; good thing it was cancer.

“Good afternoon you’ve reached the Kendra James Learning Center Kendra speaking”.  My daughter’s voice so like her mothers, the heavy sigh gave me away.

“Dad, is that you?”  She’s a woman now David, not the little girl who would slide on her mothers high heels and stagger around her bedroom bossing her dolls around.

“Yeah Kiddo, it’s me.  It’s over; I know you don’t want to talk about it so I won’t go into detail.  Everyone came, the weather was ok and, well, it’s over.  I’m just calling to let you know that if you want to reach me for say the next year or two to please call my cell.”  Just what every kid wants I’m sure; the ramblings of her old man.

“Why dad are you disconnecting the home phone?”

“Not a bad idea, I guess I should.  That’s not the reason; I’m going on a trip.  You know your mother had great business sense, like you.  Anyway, she left us both a lot of money; you should be getting a letter on how to claim yours. So I bought an old RV and I’m hitting the road.”  The cracking of my voice and my forced enthusiasm surely was showing through.

“You do that dad; you need a break I’m sure.  What about Dasher?”  Dasher, the family hound, nearly blind, totally deaf and half toxic waste if he eats the wrong food, what would I do with him?

“I’ll take him with me and pack a shovel to bury his crap at the roadside parks and to eventually bury him I suppose.  Kendra is there anything you need from me right now?  Because if there isn’t this is probably the last time I’ll call for awhile.  I need time to reflect, to just get away from all the BS.”

“I’ll be okay daddy, just do what you have to do and give Dasher a kiss from me.  I’ll call you if I need you and I have a key to the house if I need anything from there.  Are you sure you’re alright, is there anything I can do for you?”  My daughter, always the grownup taking care of her flighty father, at least I did something right.

“I’ll be alright, I love you Kiddo, Dasher says hi too.”  She laughed and told me she loved me and hung up the phone.  We once again talked without talking about Maggie; I guess that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Where do you start when you don’t know where the finish line is?  As luck would have it Dasher died before I even finished packing.  I buried him next to Nibbles the rabbit and Hammy the hamster.  With the last pat of the shovel I knew that Dasher would be the last entry into the James’s family pet cemetery.  I packed twenty grand in cash and grabbed my ATM card; I also linked my Paypal card to my bank account as well.  Thank God for the electronic age I was able to set up all the utilities on automatic payments which baring a broken pipe disaster; the house should still be standing when and if I return.  I drove from Michigan to Georgia in three days, stopping only to sleep and to grab some grub.  I’m not sure why I needed to start this quest of nothingness there but it’s where I ended up, St. Mary’s Georgia.

I had lived there for a time when I was young and foolish as opposed to being old and foolish.  I helped open a gigantic marvel of a department store complete with well dressed mannequins and employees to match.  First off I was shocked the old Winnie made it on this first leg of the journey but unfortunately it wouldn’t be the only shock.  The department store was still open now some thirty years later.  The carpet well worn, the mannequins faded and the employees carried baggage under their eyes.

“Why Mr. David is that you”, the southern accent I found still a treat to hear.  From whom it came was my shock.  Della, who thirty years ago was forbidden fruit of a teen worker now in her late forties and had she been mute I would have never recognized her.

“Yes Miss Della it’s me.  How are you?” The one question we all ask and don’t truly care to hear an answer.

“Just fine, just fine, still here as you can plainly see, still here” Della continued to talk as my mind wandered.  I left town that day not knowing why I even stopped.  At fifty-five years old what in the hell did I think I was doing?  My anger helped fuel my drive north, to where I did not know.

I started my memoirs in each rest area and each “choke and puke” my favorite term for truck stops.  It’s hard to look back when you know you’ll need carbon dating and archeologists pick to dig up anything interesting from your past.  While writing I wished that I had been arrested for protesting or saved someone from a fire or swam across Lake Superior.  Nope, my life consisted of articles in Grit and an advice column that truly demonstrated those who can’t do, teach.  Without acknowledgement a year past, then two as the pages slowly faded on my yellow legal pad.  It was after that second year that I noticed I couldn’t wait to urinate and when I did not much came out.  After the third year of writing on the road and visiting places from my past and at the age of fifty-eight I went in for a prostrate exam.  No surprise, cancer, advanced.

I called Kendra and told her that mother is taking me home.  She was like her mother in business and like me in emotions, she knew what I meant.  She asked if I was going home, I said no.  I agreed to meet her while I was still healthy enough, at least looking healthy enough.  I drove the Winnie to the animal shelter and picked up a nice little hound I named Little Dasher and then turned onto I-75 North.

 

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