Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Plaster of Guilt

Imagine opening your front door, stepping inside, and seeing your rug covered with a white powdery substance.You do a quick review of your habits and remind yourself that as far as you can recall, you haven’t started a drug business, and then you run through a list of what the foreign powder could possibly be.

This is precisely what happened to me two years ago. After being gone for several hours, I returned to find the area carpet in my living room covered in a fine, white powder in some places, a plaster of white sticky stuff in others. I ran through a list of possible causes, and that’s when I remembered the five pound bag of flour I left on the counter.

Weimaraners, the big, gray breed of German hunting dogs, are often referred to as “counter surfers”. They are known for leading with their gastro desires and are big enough to search out counter tops when the urge hits. My husband once owned a Weimar-lab mix named Kelly. Kelly was a delight to her family, until one afternoon when they returned home from a church service. This inventive dog had managed to open the refrigerator door and devour an entire ham—Sunday’s special supper. After expressions of dismay and scolding, the family started watching the poor, bloated dog carefully for distress in case an emergency Sunday vet visit was required. Fortunately for Kelly, Weimars are also known for their fantastic capacity to digest large amounts of food. Kelly survived. And my husband’s father rigged up the refrigerator with a bungee cord so no further furtive feasting could occur.

Bungee cords also make an appearance in my house. In fact, before leaving the dog alone, we often ask each other, “Did you dog-proof the house?” Dog-proofing is a process that requires an extra five minutes planning before we can go anywhere. 

Dog-Dog, despite his lack of opposable thumbs, has learned to open the kitchen cupboard door beneath the sink where the garbage is stored. On more than one occasion, before we mastered the dog-proofing routine, he managed to drag the garbage out from beneath the sink. Not only did he drag the garbage out, but he preferred to eat his feast of culinary crap out on the area carpet in the living room. Perhaps the softer setting was more comfortable for his coffee ground and orange peel noshing. In keeping with the family tradition, we started to bungee cord the cupboard. But that didn't completely deter our poor, starving dog. He also learned to push open the Lazy Suzy cupboard, which doesn’t have a  handle to secure, so we now push a chair in front of it so he can’t reach it. Dog-Dog has us trained very well.

But back to the Great Flour Incident where, what I had finally deduced was flour, covered my floors, including a fine trail of the white stuff leading to the back of the house where the family room is located. I sighed and followed the trail back. There, on Dog-Dog’s bed, was the opened and ripped bag of evidence.

He walked out to greet me, his tail wagging, and his long floppy ears slightly back on his head in a failed attempt to appear contrite. He cocked his head and looked at me as if, I swear, to say, “What? I didn’t do anything! Honest!”  Except that the guilt was written all over his muzzle, and chest in the form of a dried, white plaster. Dog-Dog was imitating a walking, breathing piƱata. No court would have acquitted him, no matter how sympathetic the judge. And I was not very sympathetic.

When we adopted our Weimie over five years ago, we knew that adopting an older dog meant we didn’t get to start from scratch. We knew providing him a forever home came with accepting a few foibles and quirks. I just never suspected I’d be replacing bags of flour, picking up garbage or getting calls from neighbors.

But that’s another post for another time.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Long Live the Downtown

Want to get a feel and flavor of a new area? Seek out and visit their downtown...if it still exists.

There used to be an old restaurant on Main Street run by a local legend, Elsie Johnson. The sign for her establishment is still painted on the side of the building: Restaurant since 1900. During its heyday, she served up fine homemade food, including pie. She was famous for her stuffed crusts with enticing, sweet fillings. By the time I met Grandma, as she was called in the latter part of her life, she had long since given up the restaurant business but was still a well-known and beloved figure in town.

Johnson's Restaurant is now a lovely art gallery featuring local and regional talent.

Years later, I delivered dinners to Mrs. Douglas, another long-time local. Confined to a wheelchair because of  her MS, she was on the list for Meals on Wheels, and I was a volunteer. She was my favorite delivery stop. I always saved her for last, because I knew she’d ask me to sit and would tell me a new story about our small town “back in the day”.  She was the one who told me that back before the big reservoir was put in, the snow would reach to the second floor of a house. She swore the lake changed the climate. She also told me stories about the small movie theater where teens would go watch handsome actors and glamorous actresses on a big screen. After the movie, they might head to Johnson’s Restaurant for an ice cream soda or piece of pie and write letters to their favorite stars asking for autographs.

When we first moved to our little mountain enclave twenty years ago, there was still a local five and dime on Main Street named Blackstocks, after the local owners. It offered everything from baby bibs and jigsaw puzzles, to batteries, pens, notebooks, wrapping paper and antacids. It also offered a homey feel and a warm hello when you walked in. I think eventually it just couldn't compete with the prices of the big discount chain store that went in down the street, and it finally closed its doors. 

Several weeks ago while on our road trip, we drove through the area where I went to college. I'd looked forward to passing through the small downtown area, a street with old buildings, a theater with intricate architecture and what was once a big ornate sign and, down the street a bit, a little drugstore that once housed a soda counter. Even back when I was in college, downtown was struggling. The area was trying to stay vital in the wake of the big, new mall on the other side of the city. I was hoping it would have survived progress and become a cultural attraction for this small, Midwest city. Sadly, it still looked shut down, struggling and depressed. It had gone the way of many quaint Main Streets that can’t compete with the big chain stores. Losing our downtowns is a sad consequence of burgeoning box stores with unimaginative architecture.

This past Friday, though, I was reminded there is hope. My husband and I attended an event in our city known as the Gallery Crawl, offered the first Friday of every month. Up and down Main Street, galleries and the local Arts Center, open their doors, offer hors d’oeuvres, music from local bands and a wonderful display of local and regional art talents. It’s one of my favorite events and reminds me that small downtowns can survive if they're willing to take on a new life and purpose.

My friend Bill Folowell, deputy-turned-artist in front of his gorgeous and vibrant Colorado landscapes.

Wandering the streets during the Gallery Crawl is not for the introverted. The sidewalks are crowded and friends stop to chat, catching up on the news in front of a stores on a pleasant summer evening. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine people dressed in an era long gone, walking down the streets, greeting neighbors as wagons and horses passed by. This night, the street happily resonated with music, laughter and conversation, creating a cozy feeling that you're among neighbors and lucky enough to experience a tradition that is gasping for breath in towns and cities across America.

After meandering the sidewalks, my husband and I stopped by the locally owned brewery and grabbed a beer and split a fish n' chips. We howdied with acquaintances sitting on bar stools inside and a few young people from the local college. Sitting on the back patio soaking up the cool evening, we listened to the murmur of conversation and sipped a cold brew.

I’m glad to live in a town among such fine neighbors and talented artists and in a place where the downtown not only survives but thrives and competes with the big boxes. I'm thankful there's still a hub to greet folks and purchase a unique gift at a local shop. I hope we always manage to maintain our Main Streets in small towns and big cities across our country. They are the hub, history and personality of our culture.

The perfect evening: a local brewery, a patio and fine art .