My mother is insane, and I have documentary evidence.

My parents left on vacation recently, and decided to drive to their destination. Today I received this letter from my mother (she's a librarian, this matters later), apparently sent just before they left, which I will now share because it's hilarious:

It's too early in the morning to call and wake you so I'm writing a quick letter.

If we die in a car accident, return the library book on kitchen table! Most of the craft supplies on the table are borrowed from the library so I could prepare for next month's programs. Return those also, except for the birdhouse kits. I bought those myself to make with the grandkids, so give the birdhouses to them if I die.

Hopefully I'll be back next friday and you won't have to sort any of it!


I honestly don't know why she felt compelled to send this when she could have just left it on the table with the library book. I have a mental image of going to my parents' house and finding post-it notes on everything designating who should be bequeathed said item. Nonetheless, this letter from my mother is still less morbid than a "happy" birthday letter from her mother.

When I would sit on a bench with my friends and we would rate the guys that would go by I would never stop to think " geesh, he is a 10, I wonder if he is of my same religon. My religon was always a big part of my life and I had never dated a person that wasn't also a Mormon. When I met Eric, who is agnostic.

In my little town that I live in, in Utahyou are supposed to be the good little girl who marrys the good little boy of the same faith and I understand why it is that way. I have seen the t.v. programs" Keeping the Faith"and read books like Are you there God? It's me Margaret and they have helped me to understand part of the reason for parents wanting you to date someone of your own faith, but you can't help who you fall in love with.

So here I am, a Christian girl in love someone who isn't. So I have been sitting here thinking, Christanity teaches to love everyone and to have a Christ-like love for people and so that means to me that I can love anyone that I want to but I wish that people could see that I am happy and not pretend that since I am dating a boy of a different faith that I am miserable. I am not deaf nor am I stupid. I hear it when people ask how I am doing and the whispered response is " She is struggling". I am not struggling at all. I am a healthy person who is actually quite happy with how the things in my life are.

I actually feel slightly drawn away from chrisianity because since I have started dating Eric, I seen some of the most unchrist like things that I have ever seen before in my life. People judging Eric because he isn't Christian and assuming I am going to Hell because I love him so much.

What is love? if it isn't a unconditonal overlook of things that are unlike ourselves? I don't mean an overlook of drugs or abuse but I think it is the right thing to do to not judge someone because of their religious offliations as long as they are not apart of a scary cult but I think that if someone makes you happy and you believe that they are the one then why would any God including the Christian God want to torture a human being so much as to help someone find the perfect person for them and then rip them away because of his different religon? I can't ever believe that any God could hate a human being that much because even the thought of living without the person you love is torture within itself.

I am not sure what to believe anymore. I do know one thing, I can't believe that God would want to hate someone because of their difference of religon and the same goes for the color of skin, intelligence level or any other differnces you can come up with. God is not prejudice, he loves everyone of every belief and so do I, just one certain boy more than the rest!

The weather forecast this morning called for freezing rain with a winter storm watch until 3:30 p.m. I always check the weather report in the morning, usually on the radio, sometimes on TV (I like The Weather Channel), and rarely in the local newspaper since I'm off to work before it arrives most of the time. I like a heads up on what to expect for the day. Wet sleet coated the street out front at 6 a.m. I checked to see if the paper was delivered. It wasn't but the Cranberry Township salt truck was spreading salt and cinders. It stops at the corner and turns around since that is the city line. An hour later as I was getting ready to leave the city salt spreader came up the street and the paper was there. I brought it in for my wife to read. The streets were now a dull steely white of clustered sleet particles. They still didn't look too bad but they were getting there.

When I got on the four-lanes, traffic was moving in single file in the travel lane 40 to 45 MPH. It was still dark with a line of red tail lights stretching down the road. The windshield wipers steadily clearing the mixed precipitation. After about a mile someone a few cars ahead had enough of this and pulled out into the passing lane. That was all I needed, I pulled out too. I stayed about four car lengths back until we passed everyone, SUV's and all. We were doing the speed limit, but everyone usually goes 65 in this 3 mile divided section in good weather. When he/she pulled back into the travel lane I continued past, but I never looked over to see who that brave soul was. The last time I did that was to check out some woman who was smoking a cigarette like she was in love with it. As I was moving slowly up beside her something wasn't right. In the corner of my eye I caught a dirty dark blue Jeep that had come to a complete stop to make a left turn. No turn signal! No brakes lights! It appeared out of nowhere. I slammed on the brakes. Good thing they were anti-lock brakes. I missed hitting her rear by 6 inches. The woman with the cigarette went by. I caught a fragment of her glance. So when I passed the car through the sloppy slush, very close to where I almost hit the red-head in the jeep, I looked straight ahead. I was driving on the Autobahn, in my mind.

I try to stay aware of what's going on around me. I have always monitored the rear-view mirror, usually for police cars. But it's good to know what's back there in case you have to make a hasty impromptu lane change. German cars don't have cup holders. Well, they didn't for a long time. I don't know about ash trays but they take their driving seriously on the Autobahn. When you're driving on the Autobahn at 120 MPH you don't really have time to drink coffee and gab on the cell phone. German drivers continuously scan the road ahead, behind, and whatever is beside them. Things can change in a hurry at those speeds. 120 miles per hour is 176 feet per second. German cars have been designed just for such driving, with bigger brakes, better acceleration, and stiffer suspensions. I was listening to Dark Tranquillity, a dark speed metal band. Very fitting for the weather and my slightly aggressive driving.

When I got to Franklin, the side streets were white. The precipitation had changed to snow while I was in Germany. The temperature was 28°F according to my outside thermometer. When I turned the wheels to go around a bend the car kept going forward. That' a good sign that I needed to slow down. I was only going about 20 MPH. Just for fun I impulsively pulled up slightly on the emergency brake until the back wheels locked up and the rear of the car slid around. It went a few feet farther than what I needed to straighten it out but I kept moving. Another car behind me was approaching the turn faster than I was. I watched in the rear view mirror as they slid too. We both slowed down after that. Driving in the snow is a great winter sport. I've done this before many many times (everytime the roads are slippery). If you try this in your car be sure to hold the release button in the whole time so you can move the emergency brake lever up and down as needed. You may slide the whole way around if you don't.

When I got safely to work I let out a war whoop of joy after I slid sideways into my parking space and started jogging to the office door. No one else was here yet except the shop supervisior. He's probably in there playing Tetris on the computer, but he's there by God. I turned on my portable police scanner and went for a cup of coffee. I had a lot to do. When I got settled in I noticed the radio was surprisingly quiet. About five minutes later I started hearing the initial fender benders. I heard a local bus driver tell her radio dispatcher that traffic was "at a stand-still crawl" on the 15th Street hill. An ambulance was needed at an accident on US Highway 322 a mile east of Franklin. That poor guy would need extricated. There was a minor accident at the traffic light by Giant Eagle. The 'boro police said the road was very slippery and to have PennDOT send a truck over there. An older man had fallen in his driveway and his wife called for an ambulance. She told them to be very careful, the driveway was a "sheet of ice". The reports continued to come in. All of the trucks were out. I heard the City of Franklin on 154.055 MHz, Sugarcreek Borough on 159.030 MHz, PennDOT on 47.17 MHz and a couple of private snow plow companies on 461.400 MHz & 461.425 MHz. My boss got to work about 9:30, an hour later than his usual tardiness. We start at 8 o'clock. He came back to ask about the road conditions from Oil City:

"How were the roads this morning?"

"They were fine when I got here."

"What time did you get here?"

"About 7:30."
"Oh, yeah right."

He saw the radio sitting there on my desk and being quite familiar with my hobby asked, "Did you hear anything on that?"

"Oh yes, it's been pretty active this morning."

"Are there any trucks out? 322 was a mess. I didn't see any trucks out at all. I don't think they touched anything."

I assured him that I'd heard everyone who was out working on it but it all came at once and they were doing their best to take care of it. You can tell.

The precipitation changed to rain late morning, what a mess. The weather is forecast to warm up toward the end of the week and then start getting cold friday. A high temperature of 15 degees is forecast for the start of the Steelers game on Saturday. They are playing the New York Jets whom they beat in mid December. My brother treated me to the Steelers-Ravens game the day after Christmas. We stopped for coffee at Sheetz in Franklin. About 25 miles from Pittsburgh we saw a couple of cars that looked like they slid off the road. A mile or so farther there were a couple cars pulled over that had some smashed lights and minor damage. The drivers were out talking to each other. The roads were covered with black ice in many places. Before we got to Pittsburgh we saw at least a dozen incidents, one was a roll-over and another car was on it's side, smashed up good. There were other drivers standing outside their vehicles. Some were talking on cell phones, probably not ordering a pizza. Traffic came to a complete stop a few times. I pulled out my scanner and heard constant chatter from all over Pittsburgh. We got a block from Heinz Field and traffic was not moving.

We both had to piss like race horses. I was tempted to open the door a crack and go in the street but they've been cracking down on that lately. I could see fans already heading up the ramps to their seats in the football stadium. Lucky bastards, within a stones throw of the restrooms too. I insisted on paying for parking. There were a couple of $20 dollar spots but they looked like they were full. After crawling three blocks in ten minutes, we were now headed away from the stadium. We both spotted a lot with many vacant spaces and a homemade sign: Parking - $30.00. I said to take it. It was well past high noon. We hustled to Heinz Field and after being quickly searched we headed up the ramp to our seats on the upper level. Toward the top I noticed a continuous line of cars sitting on the same road we came in on. We had just been there a half hour ago. Poor bastards. They were probably going to miss the kickoff.

As soon as we got to our level we headed for the men's restroom. Not many were there at this time, but they would be ten deep at every available spot come halftime. Whole lot of beer drinkin' going on.

The game flew by. It was over by 4:30 or sometime. Pittsburgh won 20-7 but our quarterback, "Big Ben" Roethlisberger was injured in the third quarter. Ironic since the last time Pittsburgh played Baltimore in September they injured starting quarterback Tommy Maddox. We were on our way up I-79 by 5 o'clock.

I got a call from my brother a week later, Sunday evening at 6:30. He asked me if I watched the game. Pittsburgh was at Buffalo and had just won their last game of the season. I said I had, of course, and asked if he listened to Myron on the radio.
He said, "I don't think I could have heard him above the roar of the crowd."
It didn't take long to figure out that he had gone to the game in Buffalo too. He was with a group that took a couple bus loads of Steeler fans from Edinboro, PA. For the nice tidy sum of $75.00 they got their ticket, the bus ride and a tailgate party. I asked him if he was home yet. They were on the outskirts of Buffalo. They stopped at Wegman's to get more beer. He asked me if I wanted to borrow Myron Cope, Double Yoi!, Myron's official biography. I sure do. He got an autographed copy for Christmas. Myron wrote to "keep that sound down" in reference to the local practice of turning the sound down on the TV and listening to Myron Cope, Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Illkin announce the game on the radio. If the Steelers win Saturday they'll play the winner of the Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots game back in Pittsburgh. The winner of the game goes on to the Super Bowl.

"Go Steelers!"

It’s not too often that I’ve wished that I was of the female persuasion. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love ‘em to death but there are just some conversations that need to stay between them and them alone and not involve those of us who possess the Y chromosome. You can call me old fashioned, you can call me insensitive. Shit, for all I care, you can call me a caveman but there comes a day when, no matter how much you know it’s coming or how much you try and prepare for it, you’re just not ever going to be ready for it. I guess it’s easy to ignore the inevitable if you choose to but when it comes, and believe me it will, it’s hard not to notice it.

The wee one, well, even though she’ll always be my little girl, in the eyes of the world, she isn’t going to be “wee” for too much longer. Suffice to say that she’s starting to mature and with that maturity there are certain things that come along with the territory. It seems that the “blossoming” has begun and her physical appearance is on the verge of shifting. I’m guessing that any talks surrounding the topic best involve her and her mom. For once, I’d truly be left speechless or I’d say something so clumsily that I’d embarrass her and make a fool of myself for a long time to come.

Who says change needs to take a long time? Maybe because of my situation of being a single dad splitting time with their “little girl”, I take notice of many things others in a traditional family might take for granted or the conversation that surrounds the issue is better left to the other half.

Things such as “How much taller she looks than the last time” echo silently in my brain. Things such as how her outlook and attitude towards life have grown subtlety over the years and how things that once seemed to be the most important a mere year ago now seem somehow trivial.

Even though it hasn’t officially happened just yet, I already long for the days when stuffed animals and soccer balls dominated our talks. When questions that were asked about certain topics were easily brushed off with a vague answer that went something along the lines of “You’ll find out when you're older” and that was the end of it. When circuses and ice cream cones took precedence over such things as boys and fashion. When she talked to her friends on the phone out in the open rather than behind the closed doors to her room and when the only company that was required was the two of us.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that there were bedtime stories and the only fear that you had was learning to ride a two wheeler? When the comfort of a night light in your room would ward off the most evil of nightmares and breakfast seemed to consist of a series of giggles? When even the most simple of things was looked upon with a sense of awe and wonder and the most complicated of things seemed to be the most simple? When hurt feelings were easily soothed with a with a reassuring hug and any scars that you might carry were easily concealed by a Band-Aid? When everyday seemed sunny and cloudless and when bugs were nice and boys were gross?

Yes, my little girl is growing up. In some ways, she’s shedding some of her childhood and moving forward. Always forward. I hope one day she recalls the days gone by with a sense of fondness and warmth and that her dad didn’t do or say anything to screw them up.

I guess I better start letting go a bit and do some more growing up of my own.

At first, our provided room is an industrial-looking control deck of some sort, with big, archaic machines made in "Jugoslavija", arrays of piping and wires traversing parallel and perpendicular along the walls. Ventilation ducts and flourescent lighting cover the ceiling, a short ladder climbs to some dark, low passageway no one bothers to explore, and bunk-bed skeletons litter the floor.

Mattresses are dragged up from somewhere and the bunks are given flesh. A pair of exposed wires is jerry-rigged into an outlet and, soon, coffee is brewing. A small, makeshift table made out of plywood and 2"x4"s is found, along with a couple of plastic chairs, and a Spades game starts up. A pile of magazines, old and new, appears out of nowhere.

There are an odd number of steps in each flight of stairs down to our berthing; from the top: eleven, corner landing, nine, landing, nine, corner landing, three.

The reservoir playfully refuses cigarette butts flicked off the North side of the dam, sailing them back up and overhead.

The gusty winds that blow across the top of the dam can be avoided on the way to chow by going down the quarter occupied by the Azerbaijanis stationed here, and crossing over on the seventh deck.

Just as I'm getting good at navigating the dark stairwell without resorting to my flashlight, we're already leaving. That's the way it is though: we get comfortable someplace, settle in, only to pack up and leave, mostly never to return. All I can do is hope the next FOB has an internet center and decent chow.

On different scales, I think about the creature I was when I arrived here, what I am now, and what I will be when I leave for good. I wonder how much I will be leaving here, how much I will take away with me, and whether I will be greater for having been here, or smaller. Narcissistic, I know.

Things I wish I could bottle and give away as gifts:

  1. Stepping out of the stifling sulfur stink into brilliant morning.
  2. Modest, persistent whirlpools in the reservoir at the dam's edge.
  3. Interference patterns that manifest as whitecaps.

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