Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dusty Solace

A few of my attic treasures

A toy from long ago

A reminder of bygone days

An old relic standing among a spider's lace

Cherish the past for it is the key to the future
A Time to Remember
Dusty Solace
By Ronnie Powell
Spider webs are more often than not unnerving and fearful to people. Ragged dusty lace suspended from a doorway containing the remnants of flies and other insects. A shriveled up mouse or rat lying in a corner of a room or pasteboard box has dampened many an adventure. There was and still is not much that can discourage me from exploring old attics that for a number of years remained intact in abandoned houses and most of the time the owners did not mind or care who trespassed into them.
One such dwelling sat on the South bank of the Niangua River, secluded in a grove of walnut trees, far from the main road. I discovered it one day while squirrel hunting and sat for awhile observing the place. There was a house, a barn, large open shed where inside sat a buggy and not far from it a cellar. I thought it strange that I could see no one about and after nearly an hour I approached the house and called out. No one answered and again and again I called out, receiving no answer. There was no automobile and only a weed grown trail that led away from the house to the top of a hill. Unwilling to go any closer I sat down by a tree and again closely observed the house. The windows were dirty but I could see ragged curtains hanging inside each window. The lawn was grown up in weeds and the fence around the building was in a ramshackle condition. The front porch steps were covered in dust and two side saddles on the porch were also dust covered.
Convinced no one lived there I decided to go up on the porch and look into the windows. I finally went inside and stood at the door for a time observing the quite house. On the kitchen table sat a plate with food that had dried up. The bed was turned down as if someone had just gotten up, but it was evident that had taken place a long time ago. A long cap lock rifle hung on the wall, dust covered. In one corner of the bedroom I saw a stack of hand made quilts and other articles too numerous to mention. It was at least to me the house appeared abandoned. It was full of treasures, objects that at one time were important to someone. I later talked to a man that owned the house and he said that his mother had died there. He stated that he did not care about the house or its contents. It wasn’t long; perhaps a year later and someone went in and looted the entire house.
One pastime my wife and I enjoyed was frequenting estate auctions. At one particular event lasting nearly a day we waited for the auctioneer to begin at a line of boxes of assorted items often referred to as the final cleanup. Like others we began looking into the boxes, rummaging through them to determine their contents. In one box, small compared to most of them and when lifting the lid I found a top layer of dried grass and laying on it a dead rat, completely withered to nothing more than hide and hair, an unpleasant sight. I gently raised the thick matt of dusty vegetation and saw the box contained several pocket knives and fountain pens. I carefully replaced the top cover, patted it down and walked away.
I continued my probe of the boxes keeping a curious eye on the box containing the rat and saw no one examining its contents after discovering the dead rodent. The winning of a two dollar bid brought the box into my possession.
My childhood memories include Aunt May Gann’s attic, a spacious mysterious place containing many years of accumulated items, a few exceeded a hundred years, which included old letters, a calendar or two and most precious of all a diary written during the Civil War by Great Grandfather Wright. In her later years Aunt May did not go up to the attic often which was evident when climbing the steep narrow steps, whisking aside cobwebs as spiders retreated into the walls. My brothers and I were not allowed to go there but a couple of times over the years. I was always first in line cutting a path through the shroud of webs, followed by my twin and younger brother.
“Do not pilfer,” Aunt May, would warn us, “and be careful not to break anything.”
The attic was in fact a second story of the old house, one large room with two windows on one side. Three walls were lined with boxes, paper sacks and large wooden trunks. Everything lay under a thick cover of dust. Across the center of the room were stacks of clothing, cloth feed sacks, both white and of assorted colors. A few ladder back chairs sat about containing boxes and there was a large drop leaf table containing dishes and other kitchen items.
My first impression upon seeing the room and its contents was amazement and speechless wonder as I began cautiously exploring the boxes and sacks, confronting a spider now and again, or glimpsing the tail of a mouse disappearing from view.
Boxes of books were quickly reviewed including an old leather bound dictionary of which Aunt May gave to me later. Family letters found in a trunk were plentiful some dating back to the Civil War and of course the beloved diary. Vintage ladies hats were a delight, most were elaborate and quite stylish. There were hundreds of Magazines dating back to the turn of the century treasures in their own right chronicling everything from World War One to the deadly flu epidemic of the early years of the 1900’s. Men’s and women’s apparel from the skin out representing the turn of the century were abundant. Carnival and depression glassware stood on the table, along with a couple of large metal boxes containing costume jewelry, including watches and a gold wedding band or two.
The attic was a wondrous place, a time capsule of immense knowledge that would have taken much more time to explore and I went away each time wanting to return.
Several years later after my last visit to the attic, during the first years of my union with Joyce, Aunt May passed way and her estate vulnerable at last to the discretion of family members, (she had no children) gathered at the old home place to clean out the house. Mother was late and arrived to find a huge fire a short distance from the structure destroying heaps of boxes and sacks removed from the attic. Totally involved, the flames were quickly devouring a lifetime of precious memories. Too late, Mother could only weep, running about salvaging only an item or two, including a large Prehistory flint knife I had earlier mentioned to her. The diary and letters were victims of the fire reduced to ashes to be caught in the wind and scattered beyond my reach. Adios

Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Old Friend

My Friend Bluto

By Ronnie Powell
Friendship can be simply defined as an unquestionable love, devotion, loyalty and respect that results in great companionship. To share life equally with a friend whether it is a human or animal is truly remarkable.
My first impression of Bluto was that of a juvenile rat. A tiny ten week old Rat Terrier that would in the years ahead to become a part of me and me him emerging into a friendship that knew no bounds.
Teresa, my oldest daughter requested a puppy for her 4th birthday and my search for the proper companion for the little girl led me to a friend who raised Rat Terriers. I arrived a week too late to prevent the docking of the pup’s tail as is required for registering of papers. I was allowed first choice and immediately centered my attention on a feisty pup undeniably the leader of the pack. White with black spots and inquiring eyes that missed nothing waddled over to where I crouched and wagged the stub of tail. I gently placed him in my lunch bucket, closed the lid and headed for home.
Upon arriving at home a short time later I sat the bucket on the floor and told Teresa there was something in it she would like. She with curious delight responded lifting the lid taking the sleepy puppy in her arms, calling him Bluto after a character in Pop Eye the Sailor Man. Bluto, had found a home with an equally young human family, resulting in an enduring relationship.
Bluto was given the run of the house and with few mistakes soon learned to go outside when necessary. We expected much from Bluto as if he was a child of our own and he seldom faltered. It was not in his best interest to remain cooped up inside and began following me around outside exploring an old barn and chicken house. He quickly learned to dig for mice and rats, chased a rabbit or two, setting the stage for life as an adventurous hunter. A small dog at best, Bluto feared nothing, protecting Teresa when necessary. He followed me into the woods one morning to squirrel hunt and spotted a young squirrel on the ground and the chase was on, never loosing sight of the creature until it made a stand in a tall sycamore tree. Bluto delighted, stood yapping, jumping about. Bluto’s devotion to Teresa was second to none yet there was a part of him she would never share.
My treks along the Niangua River were nearly always accompanied by Bluto, disappearing for an hour or two and then reappearing scratched and dirty ready for his share of whatever lunch I carried. I could only imagine what encounters had kept him so long. Bluto’s love of adventure often surpassed my own, following me into caves along wet passageways so narrow we barely made it through.
I had only to say,” “let’s go home,” and he would lead me unerringly through passages offset by others to the outside.
One particular warm summer afternoon while resting by the river, Bluto barked and ran into a field. I stood up calling for him to come back and then saw the reason for the hasty departure. A huge groundhog darted into a hole with the terrier on his heels. Bluto never broke stride and followed the groundhog in the tunnel. Fearing for the dog’s safety I ran quickly to the den and began calling his name. I sat down and listened and heard much growling and commotion deep underground and then silence, prolonged silence. Thirty minutes passed and still no sign of Bluto and I began to fear the little fellow had been killed. A muffled growl, a grunt or two caught my attention and Bluto appeared tail first out of the den dragging a large dead groundhog and no sooner than he cleared the hole with the body he again went down and a few minutes later returned with yet another large groundhog. He lay down between them panting, proudly looking up at me and wagging the stubby tail.
Bluto never content to trot along beside me, ranged ahead and one afternoon while returning home I failed to see a large bore skunk sitting on a log ahead of us on the trail,. Bluto growled and ran toward the skunk intending to give chase. I yelled but too late. Bluto leaped on the log and was hit point blank with a dose of spray knocking him to the ground. He lay whimpering, gagging. Unmindful of the dreadful odor I ran to where he lay, picked him up and retreated.
The encounter with the skunk left Bluto blind in one eye but it did not diminish his spirit and soon insisted on following me again Age had begun taking its toll on the spunky terrier and his sorties into the woods beyond me were not as frequent and often remained at my side.
One gray winter day in 1968 after leaving an overhang where I had previously discovered a large earthen pot and had spent the day Bluto and I headed home. We had crossed the river earlier that morning in an old flat bottom boat that had gone astray from somewhere upstream, and we returned to the site boat was gone, retrieved perhaps by its owner. We faced a cold crossing through a fast moving riffle. I stripped down to my underwear, placed the clothing in a backpack and stepped into the icy cold water. I could barely stand the bone chilling temperature, but had no choice but to continue on. Gasping for breath I waded deeper into the numbing water that soon rose up around my waste. The current pulled at me unmercifully as I stumbled out into the channel.
Bluto swam ahead of me and reaching the bank he stood waiting. Soon I could no longer feel my legs and again I faltered and dropped to my knees, feeling the rush of cold water close around my neck. The bank lay perhaps fifteen feet further on and fear of drowning sent me plunging ahead into the frigid water.
Bluto again jumped into the river swimming quickly to my side, barking and nipping at my arms. The presence of the dog and courageous act was all I needed and soon I staggered ashore, my hair crusted with ice and collapsed near a pile of driftwood. Crucial moments passed as I franticly searched the pack for matches and lit a fire in a pile of driftwood that quickly it rose into a massive bonfire surrounding us with wonderful life saving warmth.
Bluto passed away at the age of nine years, a dear friend and companion that even to this day he is greatly missed. Adios