Goodbye Poop

“A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.” Robert Benchley

“Traveler taught me what it’s like to love a dog.  He also showed me the importance of keeping a good stain remover in the pantry.” Jeff Brown

So, there we were, marooned on the side of the interstate.  It was my future wife Vickie, me, Traveler, and Storm.  Traveler and Storm were Vickie’s geriatric dogs.

We were driving to Indiana to visit Vickie’s family.  It was a trip of many firsts for me.  It was my first time meeting her family, it was our first long car trip together, and it was my first real experience with dogs.

Oh, sure, I’ve had pets throughout the years, just no canines.  When I was in kindergarten, I kept snails in jars.  (Don’t worry, I let them out every once in a while to stretch their feet, err, foot.)  When I was older and more responsible, I had a goldfish, various amphibians, and even a lizard once.

It was an evolution of pets.

It took me a long time (elementary school) before I worked my way up to higher mammals.  My folks didn’t want animals living in their house, so they got me a rabbit, which lived in a hutch in the back yard.  Originality was important to me, even back then, so I promptly named him “Bugs.”  Bugs was an awesome rabbit that lived for over ten years.  I buried him when I was in my first year of college.

My daughter, who apparently is more original than me, named her kitten “Waterfall” when she was twelve.  He was the first animal that lived in the same house as me.

Anyhow, back to the trip.  One minute I was driving 70 mph, and the next I was coasting to a stop.  The engine quit.  Luckily we were near a rest area, so we woke up the old pair of sleeping canines in the back seat, attached their leashes, and started walking.

Now, when I say “we started walking,” I really mean “we meandered around the immediate vicinity of the car for ten minutes while the dogs smelled every blade of grass in a concerned manner.”  Needless to say, I was concerned, because I was in a hurry.

Did I mention we were marooned on the side of the interstate?

Both of them were in their mid-teens and didn’t move very fast.  Heck, they didn’t seem to get too excited about anything, for that matter, and it took us quite a while to hike to the rest area.  I found myself longing for Slimy, my pet snail.  (I could have carried his jar in my pocket.)

Everything worked out fine.  We got a tow to a nearby town, had our fuel pump replaced, and soon we were back on the road.  The dogs couldn’t have been better behaved.  They actually slept the whole time in the back seat of our car as the mechanics worked on it.

Vickie and I were married a year later.  During the engagement, old age caught up with Storm and she passed on.  Traveler was the first dog I’d really get to know.  At first, I thought it would be neat to have a dog.  I’d be able to play fetch with him and take him for walks.  But, he was approximately 105 in human years.  He couldn’t see or hear very well anymore.

Yeah, it was hard for me to bond with Traveler.

I’m not proud to say I got angry with him occasionally when he had accidents in the house, but he was so deaf and blind I don’t think he understood what I was so upset about.  In the end, I think he just regarded me as the “other human” who occasionally yelled at him for no apparent reason.

Speaking of poop, the number one thing I learned from Traveler is that there are many different kinds of dog poop.  There’s happy poop– the kind that emerged when he was all excited when Vickie got home.  There’s nervous poop– the kind that drizzled out on his way to the groomer.  Then, my least favorite– goodbye poop.  It’s the type I found on the morning we were leaving for our vacation last June.  The nasty stuff was scattered haphazardly up and down the hallway and required me to get the steam cleaner out at 5:00 AM.

Traveler turned sixteen years old last month.  His longevity is a testament to my wife’s love for him.  In the end, however, he stopped eating and he could hardly stand up.  It was his time.

One beautiful July morning, Vickie carried him outside and both of us sat down in the grass with Traveler.  We talked to him; told him he was a good boy.  I stroked his head one last time, then a tearful Vickie picked him up and put him in the car.  She drove him to the vet by herself.

Traveler was the third dog in her life she had to help over the Rainbow Bridge.

In case you were wondering, there was goodbye poop on his last day.  It’s still my least favorite kind, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

It’s the worst because I really hate goodbyes.

To read the Rainbow Bridge poem, follow this link

If you’re interested in adopting an American Eskimo, visit

Jessica’s Cat

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

“I’m awake.” – Jeff Brown

Daughter: Are you my pookie wookie? Are you my kitty witty? I wuv you kitty.

Father: (Overcome with nausea.) Oh good grief, Jessica, will you put that kitten down and stop the baby talk?

Daughter: I love my kitty. (Holds fuzz ball up to her cheek.) He loves me too.

Father: We’ve only had the cat for an hour. It doesn’t even have a name yet.

Daughter: Yes he does. I named him “Waterfall.”

Father: Did he pee on the carpet?

Daughter: No, of course not.

Father: Then why did you name him Waterfall?

Daughter: I think it’s a beautiful name. (Jessi cradled the cat in her arms and nuzzled it with her nose.)

Waterfall definitely was Jessica’s cat, and I’m sure he knew it. Nobody call me a “cat person.” I’m not a dog person. I’m not a fish person. I’m not a hamster, snake, weasel, or hairless rat guy either. When it comes down to the cold hard truth, I have to admit that I’m not very crazy about animals, especially when it comes to them living in my house. I believe humans first created the “indoors” so they wouldn’t have to be exposed to the dangerous creatures (and their poo) that live outside.

My first inkling that the cat might be (how shall I put this?) difficult to live with happened when I got home from work one evening. Scattered on the kitchen floor were little black pieces of rubber. I didn’t know where they came from until I cleaned the supper dishes. It seemed my 12-year-old’s new kitten had ripped the garbage disposal rubber out of the sink.

For the next eight years it was just the three of us living in the same little house. Even though Waterfall had a tendency to get on my nerves, (he’d wake me up every night with a hearty “MEEOWWWRRR,” although he was “fixed,” he sprayed the carpet regularly, and the coffee table seemed to be his favorite place to throw up) he kind of grew on me. For instance, I enjoyed taking him outside in the evening during the summer months. I’d drink a beer. He’d eat some grass. This is how we spent quality “guy time” together.

Waterfall was still Jessi’s cat, though. He followed her around, slept on her bed, and chewed on her Barbie doll’s head. Things went along pretty well until last spring when I was going to do some laundry. I was shocked to find Waterfall sitting inside the washing machine. “What are you doing in there?” I asked as I picked him up. Then I noticed he lost some weight, so I took him to the veterinarian.

Doctor: I have some bad news. His blood work shows that his kidneys and liver are failing.

Jeff: What’s wrong with him?

Doctor: His symptoms are consistent with a virus cats can get at his age.

Jeff: Is there anything we can do?

Doctor: The virus, I’m afraid, is untreatable.

Jessica and I did treat him, though. We showered him with attention and, since he seemed to feel more secure in the washing machine, we put out a smorgasbord of food on top of the clothes dryer. Our laundry area was transformed into a four star restaurant for our sick kitty. The menu included his regular food, two kinds of soft cat food, and tuna. All in all, I think I spent more money on cat food than I did on people food. To our amazement, Waterfall rallied and got better.

Months went by. When Jessica and her fiance rented a house last summer, Waterfall went with her. I admit that I missed him, (I swore for weeks that I could hear the bell that he wore on his collar) but Waterfall was happier than ever living with Jessica. That’s where he belonged.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Jessica mentioned Waterfall was hanging out in her washing machine. That’s not good, I thought. We took him back to the vet and got more bad news. His kidneys were indeed failing. Determined to nurse him back to health again, we re-opened the restaurant/laundry room at Jessica’s house. This time, however, Waterfall didn’t rally. Days and then weeks went by without him eating until he was just skin and bones. It got so bad that we were afraid he’d break when we picked him up.

One gray, blustery, December morning I showed up at Jessica’s house. My daughter and I took a few pictures of our nine-year-old kitty and drove him to the vet. Euthanizing Waterfall was one of the hardest decisions we’d ever made. Over the years, Waterfall cost me a lot of money and a lot of sleep. He tested my patience almost daily with his eccentric antics, but I loved that cat, and I told him so as I watched the light go out in his eyes.

Yeah, Waterfall was difficult to live with, but I miss him every day. Goodbye old friend.

Becomming a Statistic

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning.” – Ivy Baker Priest

I never in a million years thought it would happen. Orders had gone up. We were working 40 hour weeks again. Things seemed to be going well on the factory floor and we were busy. That’s why it was so hard for me to believe what I was hearing.

The plant I had worked in for over 20 years was being closed.

I glanced nervously around the crowded break room. Some people had literally turned white. A woman in the back had tears in her eyes. I felt sick.

Standing near a screen at the front of the room, a guy from corporate gestured with his laser pointer. “We’re going to merge your factory with another.” He said, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. “We plan to shut this facility down by the end of December.”

My mind raced. The recession had finally caught up with me. I’d been hoping and praying that despite all the bad economic news in recent months, somehow my little job in my little factory would survive. Now I was a statistic.

I started working at Benco Manufacturing when I was only 18 years old. My big plan at the time was to work there briefly, get myself on my feet, and then move on to bigger and better things. But, like for so many people who start working in factories, time has a way of flying by.

I got comfortable. I bought a house and raised my daughter. Truth be told, I built myself a good life with the money I earned while working there. Now that life is in jeopardy.

Despite the 20 years, I never thought factory work was the perfect job for me. I don’t know if anybody really does. It can be hard work. It can be mind numbingly boring. I’ve had good days and awfully bad ones. In fact, I’ve always thought of my job as the perfect example of the type you love to hate. And in good economic times, it’s the type of job that can be taken easily for granted.

As I write this column, it’s been a couple of weeks since I got the bad news of the closing. I still don’t know if I’ll have a job after the merger takes place. The stress is making it difficult for me to sleep at night. When I’m at work I have an inescapable feeling of hopelessness— like I’m rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic. At the same time I have good reasons to be optimistic. I recently got engaged and I’m contemplating going back to college. Maybe this is my big chance to move on to the bigger and better things I dreamed about when I was still a teenager.

A co-worker asked me recently if I had any post-Benco plans. Sighing, I looked out across the factory floor. With all the activity and commotion it was difficult for me to imagine it all going away in a few short months. A fork truck sped by. Loud machinery was in operation every direction I looked. People were busy coming and going. For the past 20 years these were the people I worked with, laughed with, and sometimes even argued with. In the coming weeks and months I might find myself crying with them. I shook my head and said I don’t know yet.

I just don’t know.

My First and Last Days at Benco Mfg.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Theodor Seuss Geisel

“Good morning for the last time,” said my supervisor. It was the beginning of our shift meeting on December 23, 2009 and he was standing at the front of the break room. He glanced up from his clipboard. “Good luck to all of you with your future plans.”

I looked around the room. We were a small, but diverse group of people with diverse plans. Most of us were going to work for Victor Manufacturing (the plant Benco was merging with) after the first of the year. Some of us were going to retire. Some of us were planning to go back to school and begin new careers. And then, there were those of us (myself included) who didn’t really know what the heck they were going to do. One thing was certain for all of us, though:

This was our last day as Benco employees.

Except for the radio blaring God Bless the Broken Road over the PA system, the plant was nearly silent. As I made my way across the factory floor to my job for the day, I couldn’t help but notice big swaths of empty floor space, that, just a few short weeks earlier, were filled with machinery and people. Most all the important equipment and quite a few people had already been transferred on. It wasn’t too many years ago, I thought, when nearly 300 people worked in this building. Now, on this last day, there was only a handful.

It was 1989 and I was only 18 years old when Benco (part of Magna International) hired me as a production worker. My orientation tour was quite an eye-opening experience. Gary showed me the hydraulic area. The machines resembled miniature jungle gyms, only with complicated arrays of hydraulic cylinders and hoses sticking out of them. They hissed, clunked, and rattled as they formed metal tubing. Making oil strainer tubes for the auto industry was the plant’s specialty. Nearby, operators kept the temperamental machines running.

Another aisle revealed the blanking area. BANG BANG BANG… A row of presses banged away, forming (blanking) out component parts that would later be assembled into larger, more complicated finished products. Other areas of the plant revealed the spot welders, ovens, and repo.

Of course, I didn’t understand everything Gary was talking about. He was speaking in the grand, unique language of Benco Manufacturing. Although I wasn’t exactly the “shiniest garnish in the tote,” a few short weeks later I began to be able to tell the difference between the Ford, GM, and Chrysler products.

Fork trucks zoomed back and forth across the factory floor. I could smell diesel smoke as a semi-truck pulled out of the shipping area. All in all, the factory was a busy, noisy, dirty, sometimes confusing place (especially for a new guy like me). But, as time went on, I realized it wasn’t such a bad place to work.

Despite this, throughout the years I recognized the quitting time buzzer to be the sweetest sound in the factory. I have to admit that today, this last day, was no exception. I logged out of my machine, shook a few hands, and then I left. As I walked out to my car, I thought, well, that’s it. I said my last good-byes. But, as I put it in gear and drove out of the parking lot for the last time,

I said it one more time.

A Day with my Daughter

“A daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart.” – Author Unknown

“Do you remember years ago when I tried to throw that piece of paper into the trash can from the ski lift ride? The attendant who saw me do it banned me from the ride for the rest of the day!”

My daughter grinned at me from the passenger seat of my Chevy Blazer and replied, “That was really embarrassing.”

Laughing, I said, “Good thing we were ready to leave anyway.”

It was early in the morning and we were driving to Adventureland in Des Moines, Iowa. We’ve made the trip to the amusement park almost annually since my daughter was six years old. Now she was nearing her 20th birthday and I had feared those fun filled days hanging out with her might be over for good. That was until last Father’s day when she surprised me with two tickets to the park. My heart leaped. “I can’t wait to go,” I said. “It will be just like the good old days.”

When we arrived, a park worker asked if we wanted our picture taken. I put my arm around my daughter and we both smiled big. A few minutes later we found ourselves at the Funnel Cake Factory sitting at a table in the sun planning our day. I brushed some sugar off of my chin. “I think we should go over to the Raging River first before the line gets too long. Then, maybe the Log Ride. What do you think?”

She took a sip of lemonade. “Sounds good too me. After that we’ll ride the roller coasters to dry off.”

We knew what we were doing.

At one of the roller coasters there was one of those signs with a line on it. “You must be this tall to ride,” it said. I told my daughter that I remembered when she was too short. A little while later we found ourselves at the magic show. The magician skillfully made his assistant disappear into thin air. We were impressed. Then the magician started to do his rope trick. It was the same rope trick that he’d performed in previous years. My daughter grinned at me and I could tell that she remembered.

We ate cheeseburgers at the Soda and Sounds. We rode on the Underground, the G-Force, and the Inverter. And who could go to Adventureland and not ride the Silly Silo, the Galleon, Lady Luck, and the Ferris Wheel?

My daughter asked, “Do you remember that time when your sunglasses flew off your face on the Space Shot? You’d better take them off this time.”

When I heard the train whistle I told her that I wanted to ride it. She shot me an incredulous look.

“Let’s do it.” I said. “It’s a tradition for us to ride the train.” So we did. As we rode through the trees and over the bridge, I nudged her with my elbow. “Thanks for coming here with me today.”

“No problem.” She said. “It’s been fun.”

And it was. It was a good day- one of those rare ones that I got to spend entirely with my daughter. I have to admit that when I thought it might be the last at Adventureland, I felt a little sad. “You know,” I told her, “Next year we could come back, or maybe we could go to the Wisconsin Dells or Chicago. Somewhere.”

“That sounds good to me, Dad.”

We visited the souvenir shops and then we picked up our picture. It turned out great and we decided to have it made into a key chain. As we walked toward the gate to leave, I paused for a moment to soak it all in. The Ferris Wheel caste long shadows in the late afternoon sunlight. I could hear the hiss and rumble of the Space Shot in the distance. A little girl was running and laughing.

“Are you ready to go?” asked my daughter.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just taking one last look. One last look to remember.”

The Kickstand

“Remorse is the echo of a lost virtue.” – Bulwer Lytton 

“A dusty pair of training wheels is an echo of growing up.” – Jeff Brown

The principal smiled and said, “I’d now like to present the class of 1988.” 

It’s hard for me to believe, but it’s been 20 years since I graduated from high school. For such an important day, it’s surprising how little I recall of it. I remember throwing my hat in the air. I remember getting my picture taken and talking to family and friends at my party, but that’s about it. 

Tassels changed sides. Life went on. 

Before I knew it I had a daughter. Ever since she was old enough to pedal, we’ve liked to ride bicycles. It’s one of the few things we still like to do together since she’s reached her teen years. My tool shed is cluttered with nearly every bike she’s ever had- the tiny one she rode with training wheels to the adult sized bike she rides now. I don’t have the heart to get rid of any of them. 

The other day when we were shopping, I saw a pair of bikes. They were parked in the glaring midday sun. The smaller one (it didn’t have a kickstand) leaned against the larger for support. They could easily be overlooked in all the hustle and bustle of the downtown street. But, there they were, easy enough to find, safely secured by the chain that connected them. 

Backpedal thirteen years. It was early morning and I was standing on my front step; two training wheels lay carelessly in the grass. “I took them off myself,” she said, proud eyes and little hands clutching a pair of pliers. 

Before I knew it, we were riding together. First down the street, then around the block, and eventually around the whole town. In the middle of life’s hustle and bustle people would stop and say, “There they go again- that father and daughter.” 

Spunky little girls don’t stay little forever. Time has a way of changing everything. My daughter has traded her Barbi for a cell phone, bike rides with her dad for dates with boys. Now she’ll be throwing her own graduation cap in the air. 

I can almost hear it now. “I’d like to present the class of 2008.” 

Tassels will change sides. Life will go on. 

I can tell my daughter is nearly ready to join the hustle and bustle of adult life. I have to learn to let go- unlock that chain that’s kept us together for so many years. It’s hard for me, some days more than others, but I have to remind myself… 

The bike she rides now has its own kickstand.

One Sad Day

“After your death you will be what you were before your birth.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

I was sitting in my Blazer feeling dazed. The little flag mounted on the left side of my hood flopped wildly in the February wind. It was so cold. I put on my sunglasses because the bright morning sun glared terribly off the newly fallen snow. There was a line of cars parked in front of me that reached down the street. One by one they drove away single file with their headlights on. Soon it was my turn. As I put the Blazer in gear and pulled away from the curb, I thought about my grandma. 

For me, she was the perfect, almost stereotypical grandma. Her cookie jar was always full, she never forgot my birthday, and she was always there for me when I needed her. When I was a kid, my sisters and I had to walk the mile or so to school. Sometimes we rode our bikes, but when it was raining, Grandma would pick us up. I remembered her car- a big mid-seventies Caprice. I remembered the drone of the wipers as they whipped back and forth across the windshield. I remembered the slow clinking of her turn signal indicator when she dropped us off. I clicked mine on. 

Our long parade of cars and SUV’s slowly made its way through town. I noticed one or two pedestrians look on with interest. A few motorists pulled over to the side of the road to let us pass. For the most part of the trip, however, we passed through the city unnoticed. 

A police car blocked the traffic for us at the cemetery. The hearse made a left turn and the rest of us followed. I’d made this trip with my Grandma many times before. I remembered her sitting next to me as I drove, chatting about the weather or the latest going ons in the family. We’d make the trek twice a year- once in the spring to set potted plants next to the graves of her husband and son, (my Grandpa and uncle) and once in the fall to retrieve them. 

When I reached the top of the hill, a big two-sided tent came into view. It was pitched in a familiar spot. The hearse had already come to a stop near it. I parked my Blazer, took a deep breath, and got out. I made my way to a small group of men that had gathered there. “Is everybody here?” one asked. He opened the tailgate. There were six of us altogether, three on a side. We pulled the casket out the back, turned around, and made our way down a hastily shoveled path towards the tent. 

Father Mike was waiting for us. He smiled as we set the casket down on the stand. Then he motioned for the rest, a small but very devoted group of family and friends, to come in out of the wind. We huddled together and Father led us in prayer. 

Our Father who art in heaven… 

Hail Mary full of grace… 

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. 

We passed around some flowers (souvenirs of this sad day) and then the service was over. The tent rustled in the wind. I glanced around and I could sense that the group of my shivering, teary-eyed relatives wanted to stay longer. 

But it was so damn cold. 

We dispersed and when I got back to my Blazer, I turned around for one last look. It was one of those scenes that I knew I’d always remember- the tent, the casket, the blowing snow. I felt bad for leaving, but I knew my Grandma wouldn’t be alone. She’d be right between my Grandpa and Uncle Danny now and forever. 

“Goodbye Grandma.” I said aloud as I drove away. I knew with time the details of this sad day would slowly fade from my memory. Life would go on. It didn’t seem right that things would go back to normal, not after today. I also knew in the back of my mind that it didn’t really matter. 

Because I’d always remember my Grandma. 

Florence Bluemle 

Jan. 6, 1916 to Feb. 13, 2007