Part 3: 15 things you (maybe, probably) don’t know about me
This list began two weeks ago with what I thought might be an earth-shattering announcement: Despite having spent parts of six decades and two centuries as a journalist (translation: a long, long, long time), I never earned a degree.
The reaction has been “yeah, so?” or “hey, I didn’t either!” Apparently that only mattered to a few dozen places that received my resume and cover letter in September and October. So much for that chip on my shoulder.
9 – We raised sheep and rabbits for a while.
My bride (also my BFF Kelly) and I were sheep superintendents for the Jaycees/Cole County Fair back in the day. Our girls raised sheep and rabbits, which apparently qualified us to be the sheep gurus for the fair, which meant me sleeping in the sheep barn for a few nights, along with some of the 4-H sheep project teens, including my own.
My most vivid memory of that was one day and night it was about 191 degrees. And sometime during that night, unable to sleep on account of the infernal heat and the insufferable “clang!” from the Lions Club horseshoe pit just a few feet from the sheep barn, I sat up in time to see one Lions Club guy deliberately knock out another Lions Club guy with a horseshoe. (I’m just sorry this was pre-YouTube.)
Spoiler alert: Copious amounts of alcohol were involved.
It was a roundhouse wallop right against the top of the guy’s noggin. You know, I can’t say for certain that the poor guy ever regained consciousness but an ambulance came and hauled him away. I think the horseshoe-clanging and beer guzzling ended just before dawn.
About 4-H: I wasn’t involved in the club growing up, but we got our girls involved as best we could. It also led to an incredible opportunity for me to help create the Missouri 4-H Sportfishing Program. As part of the Missouri team, I spent a week at a lakeside retreat/lodge outside Tustin, Michigan, and became a nationally certified tackle crafter. (That involved creating lures, tying flies, building fishing rods, mastering all manner of tackle-crafting things.) Just to mingle with and get to know some of the best sport fishing, fly fishing, and fly-tying experts in the country, and being in a canoe at 9:30 p.m. when it wasn’t yet dark, was one of the best experiences of my life.
Though I learned how to tie some flies and tied my own, monstrous creations that never, in a billion years, would land a fish. But I love to fish. When I was 9, I caught the first fish and the most fish in the Belle City Park Fishing Derby. I was awarded a tackle box and a rod and reel. By the way, I won those prizes using a coffee can full of nightcrawlers and a cane pole. I must have looked like Tom Sawyer. But I behaved much better than he did. (Ahem.)
Back to my farming experience. Though I grew up in a small town with an agricultural setting, I had no real farming experience until Kelly, who was a farm girl through and through, and I signed on as caretakers for a 350-acre cattle farm in extremely rural Gasconade County. Pine Corners, the farm off Elk Head Road, was closer to Red Bird than it was to Bland if that gives you any orientation for your compass.
We lived at Pine Corners for a couple of years, our red ’83 Chevy Chevette the only mode of our transportation for that formative era in our lives and marriage. We endured:
- A 50-below zero windchill.
- tornado (though we weren’t home when it touched down on the south part of the farm, skipped over the house and barns, lifted a neighboring barn off its foundation, then leveled a subdivision in Owensville).
- A 32-inch snow event (Feb. 26-28, 1984).
- Getting the wood stove so hot that the century-old wallpaper self-peeled off the wall in one room.
- Three goats—Bill E., Snowy, and Cinnamon—standing on top of the Chevette. (I found them a new home within a week. And, no, that’s not a euphamism for “I blasted them to kingdom come.” Had cooler heads not prevailed, namely Kelly’s, that’s the fate the goats would have met.)
Plus, I learned to NOT stand behind the manure spreader after shouting to Kelly, who was driving the tractor, to put the old machine in gear and “gun it!” I also learned that when siphoning gas from the car to put in the tractor, one is not supposed to swallow any gas.
I was sure I’d die and probably should have. A pharmacist friend directed me to eat burned toast and to NOT throw up because I’d aspirate the fuel and/or fumes into my lungs, which would probably be fatal. In the days that followed, Kelly asked a few times if I was tired because I’d run out of gas.
Kelly was a farm girl. She understood manure spreader operation and knew not to drink gasoline. She also knows those things because she has more common sense than anyone I know.
The farming/animal raising venture got another try about 15 years ago near Clark just across the Boone County line. No sheep that time, but lots of chickens and rabbits. We also had quite a few show and freezer rabbits (yeah, rabbit meat) over the years.
10 – We were almost on the Judge Judy show.
Speaking of rabbits …
When we lived in Jefferson City, two Chow Chow dogs got out of their fenced yard and tried to chow chow down on our youngest daughter’s show rabbits. Californian white rabbits and Mini Rexes, mostly. Some died, others were severely maimed, only a few were unscathed. All—including our daughter—were traumatized. The canine menaces even destroyed a wooden rabbit hutch and damaged another, leaving their fur and, no doubt, blood among the carnage.
It was not a scene for the squeamish. Awful, horrific memories even now.
The animal control officer who responded said he was familiar with the dogs and their owner, who didn’t always make sure the dogs were secure. Their reputation preceded them. That evening, the dogs’ owner came to the door with a check, which didn’t accurately compensate our daughter for her losses, nor did the owner believe that her dogs had actually committed the violent acts.
That would be a point of contention all the way to small claims court, where I had, what I thought at the time, was one of my finest hours. In my closing statement (attorneys reading this should take note), I paced from one side of the room to the other, imploring Associate Circuit Court Judge Pat Joyce to provide swift, firm justice.
I was channeling fellow preeminent legal minds, from Perry Mason and Oliver Wendell Holmes to Alexander Hamilton and Honest Abe. Even Johnnie “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit” Cochran would have been impressed.
“We ask,” I said in conclusion, “that her Honor command the defendant to surrender her Chow Chows to the appropriate authorities so that their DNA can be taken to PROVE that the beasts are responsible for this tragedy.”
Judge Joyce, hearing this small claims case with as much careful deliberation and rapt attention as she’d give a high-profile criminal case, looked puzzled (or awestruck?) and asked her bailiff, “Can we do that? I don’t think we can do that.” Then she told me, rather unapologetically, “We can’t do that.”
She announced judgment in our favor, told the defendant dog owner to pay, and gaveled the case closed. It was the outcome we wanted, but it was rather anticlimactic for the manner in which I demonstrated my enviable grasp of American jurisprudence.
The defendant dog owner was not satisfied with the judgment. She appealed to the circuit court, where the rules of evidence were higher (the value of the rabbits as breeding stock was the crux of her defense, as well as whether her beasts were actually the culprits). And in circuit court, my lawyering would come under greater scrutiny.
As the case was slogging its way through the docket, I got a phone call from a producer for the Judge Judy show. Someone on her staff routinely perused small claims court dockets across this great land and zeroed in on a case in Cole County, Missouri. The producer wanted our daughter and me to come to Los Angeles for a taping of the show. It was a short conversation, ending with me saying, “No, thanks,” and figuring that was it.
A few days later, a big envelope arrived—registered mail—with all the sundry information about the Judge Judy show, including a request for travel and so on. the documents simply needed to be signed and returned, but I set them aside. (I think I still have that packet on account of I’m kind of an ephemera hoarder.) A day or two later, the producer called back.
We talked for about two hours.
They’d fly us to L.A., put us up in a nice hotel, with all travel, meals, lodging, and even a visit to Disneyland (just 30 miles from the hotel) covered by the show. Madam Producer even said the judge would likely find in our favor and we’d get the total amount sued for. Judge Judy would meet with us before the director said “Action!”, just to be sure Natasha wasn’t too nervous. But it all sounded, well, kind of … icky. Was this really justice?
Or was it entertainment?
So I asked—hinted, really—if Madam Producer could sweeten the pot a bit. Is it possible, I said, that the Dodgers might be playing at home when we come? Hmmm? To which she quickly responded, “I think I can make sure our schedule matches their schedule.”
My response? Goodbye ick! “Play ball!”
Madam Producer recapped the conversation to make sure I understood that the dog owner defendant would also be invited, as well as the animal control officer who, I assumed, would really appreciate a free trip to Hollywood. The show would pay all of our expenses and, almost with 100 percent certainty, the monetary damages.
Even though I was already picturing the view from box seats at Dodger Stadium and preparing cranial space where I’d store those incredible memories, I told Madam Producer that I would discuss it with the family and get back to her.
The discussion was short. Natasha asked one question: “Who will pay?” Well, I explained, the show would pay. Not the dog owner. “And who pays for her trip there?” Well, I explained further, the show would pay. Not the dog owner.
Natasha shook her head. “No.” Her conclusion was inarguable. The dog owner defendant wouldn’t have to pay a dime and take responsibility, and she’d get a free trip to L.A., probably Disneyland, too, and, who knows, probably seats next to us at the Dodgers game.
I called the producer with the answer. She was kind and even said our daughter must be an incredible young woman with great integrity. Yes, her parents were proud. It was the right decision.
We accepted the dog defendant attorney’s offer for a settlement and went about our lives.
(Side note: I still haven’t been to L.A. for a Dodgers game. Judge Judy, if you’re reading this …)
11 – I’m an ordained Southern Baptist minister.
During parts of 15 years between 1983 to 2001, I pastored three different country churches (at different times) in Maries, Osage, and Gasconade counties. New Salem Baptist Church outside Owensville ordained me in 1989. I mostly worked a day job as a newspaper sports writer or news reporter during that time, so I was considered a bi-vocational pastor. I became a Christian as a wee lad and my dad was my pastor (his preaching career spanned 72 years). It just seemed natural (maybe expected?) that I’d follow in those footsteps.
I’m much more ecumenical and non-denominational in practice nowadays, but I cherish my spiritual heritage and upbringing in a Southern Baptist home even though we disproved the old adage, “Families that pray together stay together.” My parents got divorced.
Still, there is without a doubt, an old church choir always singing in my soul. One of the altos (some of my old homies know who I’m talking about) was monotone and flat; the usual organist followed her own time signatures (my people will remember Mrs. G); and one of the tenors had a voice as distinctive and pure as Pavorotti (I mentioned Vic Young earlier) if Pavarotti was 80 and had just trudged four miles in the snow and ice to shovel off the church sidewalk and turn on the heat.
That choir still gets me through some of life’s toughest times. My faith and those memories keep me grounded. Jesus keeps me anchored and secured.
Interesting, though, that the date of my last sermon was Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001—just five days after 9/11. No need to read anything into that other than coincidence. There was a point, though, when I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Heaven because if it meant just being in church all the time, well, then there’d been no baseball games to play or watch. How could God not be a baseball fan?
One night I asked my mom—I might have been 7 or 8—if there’d be baseball in Heaven. She assured me that the things that God created to give us pleasure (and God OBVIOUSLY created the timeless game of baseball) would also be in Heaven. Our pets, baseball, and … well, our pets and baseball. That’s all I needed to know.
I can still be rather preachy sometimes, but mostly about: how learning to drive in a roundabout is not rocket science; killing cliches (such as “it’s not rocket science”) and tiresome buzzwords; and crimes against punctuation. (Y’all, friends don’t let friends abuse apostrophes! Come on. Can I have a witness?!) The difference between making something plural or possessive is an apostrophe. We’ll cover plural possessives as soon as all of humanity stops using apostrophe’s for plural’s. (Who caught this? Kill the apostrophe. It’s apostrophes and plurals.)
I also have a lengthy list of pet peeves and grievances (just wait ‘til the next Festivus!) and would like to permanently eliminate the terms “reach out,” “circle back,” “moving forward,” “truly” (was everything you said before “truly” not true?), and most uses of “literally.” (If you say, “My head literally exploded” and there’s no gray matter to prove it, then, um, no.)
And sorry not sorry (we should also euthanize “sorry not sorry”) but I also want to commit homicide on the word “utilize.” Let’s call this the “utilize rule.” If there’s a shorter word, use it. “Utilize” is seven letters and three syllables. Do you know what word is one syllable and three letters, and means the same thing? “Use.”
You’re welcome. Follow me for more rants that are unlikely to change anyone’s mind about anything ever. (I tell ya, these things sometimes make my head literally explode.)
12 – No raisins, zucchini, or other weird stuff on this picky eater’s plate.
A few years ago I stumbled onto an article about weird food combinations that some people are wild about: vanilla ice cream with soy sauce; frosted flakes with cheese; Cheetos and milk. You don’t have to go to those extremes to find the taste combos that I eschew. I like chocolate and I love peanut butter, but never shall the twain meet on my palate. (Snickers bar is the lone exception.)
My favorite cookie is oatmeal. Just oatmeal. Add peanut butter? That’s just gross. Add chocolate chips? Well, we all make mistakes, and that one is tolerable, though not preferable. (The flip side is that I love chocolate chip cookies, but don’t add oatmeal. I mean, figure it out: Is it an oatmeal cookie or a chocolate chip cookie? I’ll gobble up either. Enough already. One or the other, not both together. Sheesh.
Raisins? Are you kidding? In a cookie? The best place for raisins is in the raisin box and the best place for the raisin box is not in my pantry.
While I’m uber-picky, I’ve come a long way since my youth, mostly thanks to my wife’s late grandma and my wife who, by the way, has the least picky palate of anyone I know. I’ll shoot, dress, fry, and eat a squirrel, but only the meat. Not the brain. My bride, on the other hand, learned her eatin’ habits from her grandpa, who showed her how to crack open the skull with your incisors and eat … Yeah, I can’t even think about it. Some things remain forever off-limits for my taste.
My off-limits, no-go list includes: Squash of any kind (special animosity for zucchini); brussels sprouts; avocado; Asian and Indian food (soy sauce and many spices activate my gag reflex); peas (and, no, disguising them in cheesy tot casserole is not acceptable, as 7-year-old Jodie will tell you but don’t ask him what “came up” when he regretably consumed a spoonful of the stuff that a Sunday dinner guest insisted he try); a wide range of tropical fruits; mushrooms larger than my pinky nail; okra; beer and whiskey (most anything brewed or fermented); and green and red peppers. There’s more on the list, but that’s a good start. But like i said, the list isn’t quite as long as it once was.
My go-to list is always topped with almost anything grilled and slathered with barbecue sauce. I’m also always in the mood for dry-rub ribs. No sauce required.
We all have go-to foods. I’m guessing most of us also have no-go foods. What are yours? (Feel free to convince me that my aversion to referenced combos and foods can be cured; just prepare to be disappointed.)
I’m also still eager to hear some of your “what you don’t know about me” entries. What are you willing to reveal? What do you need to clarify to set the record straight? No need to empty the skeletons from your closet but consider replying with something that makes you “you” that, possibly, most people don’t know about you.
Be brave. Have fun. Go!
COMING UP: The final part of this series, with items 13 through 15 of the things you (maybe, probably) don’t know about me. It will include the list of the 89 different kinds of animals that have bitten, chomped, pinched, stung, pierced, or gummed me. (Giraffes will “gum” you and so will kangaroos, which also have a hard bite. And I really wish the Bengal tiger had left a scar.)
Oh, and I also probably believe in ghosts and Bigfoot, and once had a pet Mo Mo. Not even kidding.