Aging

Blackie the Cat—A Love Story

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I was once voted Least Likely to Ever Own a Cat. A farm kid who always owned dogs, and who–from the age of 4 onward– always had an old dog following me around Wisconsin woods and back roads, I never had much to do with cats; and in fact even got a few guilty chuckles from the book “Fifty uses for a Dead Cat.”


Well, but then there was Rocky and in short order Blackie. What happened was this: during a bike ride on a lonely 2 lane blacktop in east San Diego County, my wife Andrea and I heard mewing from the brush along the road and stopping found a little tiger striped kitten that had obviously been dumped off to fend for itself or die.


I pedaled home with one hand gripping the handlebar of my mountain bike while I held a skinny squirming kitten in the other. A bath with flea-soap in the sink, a trip to the vet for shots, and we had ourselves a cat. Our new addition liked to climb up on high shelves, either in the garage or bookshelves indoors and whenever one of us walked by would launch itself, feet outstretched like Superman, tail steering like a rudder and land neat as you please on a shoulder.


“Heck; she’s Rocky the Flying Squirrel,” Andrea declared, and the name stuck.


For at least a year we’d caught glimpses of a feral black cat living and scrounging on the hillside just east of our house. Wily and quick as light he could catch birds in a flash of teeth and claws. I once saw him catch a rat and then eat the whole thing–feet and head and tail and all. Gross. I knew I liked dogs better.

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In School With the Posture Police

In my elementary school days, I went to a one room country schoolhouse where Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn would have felt at home. It’s an historical landmark now—you can Google it:  Papoose Creek School. And yes, one couldn’t possibly give that name to a school these days.


Not actually Papoose Creek School--but a reasonable likeness.

Not actually Papoose Creek School–but a reasonable likeness.

Papoose Creek School was one modest room, not counting a cloak room where a boy could also put his fishing rod or .22 rifle or 20 gauge shotgun if he happened to bring them to school. Look, the namesake of the school—Papoose Creek—did have trout after all, and the woods across the road had rabbit and squirrels. What else was a kid to do after school but fish and hunt?


This was a school with one very stern disciplinarian of a teacher and 32 pupils, give or take, grades one through eight.


Mrs. Torkleson ruled the place with an extra thick hickory stick and she wasn’t shy about whacking any of us across the back or shoulders with it either. Hey, teacher, just try that in any American school today. You’d wind up in jail but only after making the front page of the New York Times. But she was effective. All of us were so quiet, so well-behaved, that most of the time you could hear a pin drop in that rustic little room and I mean that literally not figuratively.


Now that leads me to posture. Mrs. Torkleson had the temerity to actually shout out, “Class, feet flat on the floor!  Hands on your desks!  Sit up straight!” multiple times each school day. I must have heard her repeat that four or five times a day for five or six years. Not counting summer vacation, of course. But then she was known to make house calls on occasional hot August afternoons.

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Old Age: Are We There Yet?

William Halligan

William Halligan circa 1970s.

Sixty may be the new forty; but I’m not too sure about sixty-five.

Living warm in summer
Suddenly: The streets are filled
With Fallen leaves

Mt. San Jacinto, Southern California’s second highest peak, made me feel it: The undeniable approach of something beyond middle age. I first walked one of the several approaches to the summit when I was 17. Over the years I must have done the Devil’s Slide trail out of Idyllwild a few dozen times. A walk to the top is eight miles with 5,000 feet of climbing. My wife and I have done it a couple of times a year for the past 4 or 5 years. Sixteen miles round trip, a good day hike. Touch the summit, sit out front of the old stone cabin just shy of the top, take about an hour for lunch and then head back down. A moderate but very do-able 8 hour day. I always felt about the same, walking strong and quickly, heck I might have still been 17.

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