The Other Side

where-the-red-fern-grows-2-600x250As I recall her in my mind’s eye, Mrs. Thompson (first name lost to time) was a pleasantly plump, nurturing fifth grade teacher, clad in the sort of festive, seasonally-appropriate sweaters favored by seasoned elementary school veterans. During my first year at that small Christian school in Winter Park, Florida, she led my class through math and science, handwriting and Bible. And, she also had the distinction of bringing me face to face with death for the first meaningful time, through story.

My childhood, while not idyllic, was nonetheless, relatively free of loss. My dog Mac had died in the night on Valentine’s Day earlier in my grade school years, but to that point, I had never lost a close friend or relative. I suppose the greatest sense of loss I routinely experienced as a child was leaving behind friendships due to nearly a half-dozen moves before third grade.

So Mrs. Thompson reached the final chapter of Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows after weeks of reading aloud to our little class community, and first Old Dan, then Little Ann, left Billy behind after that run-in with the mountain lion. And something inside of me which I hadn’t even known existed, broke. The bond I had formed with these two brave hounds, tirelessly loyal to the very end, was stretched until it snapped. At the time, I probably couldn’t form my feelings into words. So I wandered through days poring over the ending of that story, trading anger for grief, until the emotions subsided, and I passed through a door into a new room, face-to-face with the reality of loss.

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Home is a Mercy

With our boys spending a week at a summer day camp, my wife and I recently dove into a substantial (for us) home project – installing a new laminate wood floor in our kitchen. Like the true DIY go-getters we are, we did every bit ourselves. And, like the absent-minded handyman that I am, the project proceeded in fits and starts over the better part of four days as I measured, cut, laid the planks, re-measured, re-cut, tossed ill-fitting boards out, and rubbed my sore knees and my wife’s sore back, all in the hope of a fresh, clean kitchen for our family to enjoy.

It’s a task I’m not sure I envisioned eight years ago when we bought this house, our first as a married couple after several years of the renting life. When we moved in, we insisted to anyone who would listen that this house was a “starter home.” Though it was a perfectly lovely three-bedroom with good bones in a quiet village here in Western New York, positioned on a modest half-acre with a mature maple shading a bricked back patio, we felt the itch common to our generation, I’m told, to keep moving, stay for a few years, then move on out, onward and upward.

But something happened along the way, as the years went on and we moved further into the role of homeowners.

We got planted.

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