I've many passions but two of them are reading & camping, so naturally my camper's name is Parnassus for Christopher Morely's "Parnassus on Wheels".
By: PeaceRiverBP, 4:19 PM GMT on July 09, 2006
My Brilliant Career IV (again, with apologies to Miles Franklin, author of the real book My Brilliant Career)
Life in Florida was good. I had a great husband, a nice home and an interesting job at 101 square miles of conservation area. When I saw the advertisement for the job, I knew it was just what I wanted. There were lots of other applicants and I didn’t have a lot of experience, but my enthusiasm and shameless begging got me in the door.
My first day consisted of a driving tour of the conservation area, where I saw lots of alligators, a wild hog, a few deer and various water fowl and snakes. The young man taking me on the tour was sweet and a real cutie. I couldn’t help but to think that he should meet my youngest daughter! We bumped down dirt roads, slogged through water several feet deep for mile after mile; there were times when I thought we should be in a boat! But, although I helped with the field work occasionally, my position was to be the secretary in the office. I not only answered the phone and all the usual secretarial duties, I handled most of the purchasing and kept the office clean and organized.
Every Monday morning, I’d bring in some type of goodie that I’d baked and sometimes, other days, like a birthday, as well. Even though I’m not the greatest cook, the guys really seemed to appreciate a morning snack. One morning, I’d just come into work and one of my co-workers came trotting up to the office and breathlessly opening the door, he stuck his head in and took a look at the plate of cookies in my hand and exclaimed; “Oh, good! You brought cookies!” Then he dashed off and a moment later I heard a distant HOOOONK-HOOOONK of a truck horn. In a few minutes, he returned to the office and started helping himself to the cookies and explained; “That’s our signal! We were working in the back shop and we’d just said how hungry we were and we hoped you’d bring us something to eat; so when we saw you drive up, I was sent to see if there was any food and then I’d honk the horn so everyone else could come and have a bite to eat!” Sure enough, the rest of the crew followed in short order. Now that I knew they had good appetites, I knew that if I’d cooked too much of something at home, they could be counted on to make sure nothing went to waste. One evening, I had my parents to dinner and I made scallops wrapped in bacon, but there were still a large number of them left over and I knew I couldn’t eat them all before they’d spoil, so the next morning I called into the office where the guys gathered early in the morning to discuss their plan of attack and asked if they liked scallops. I was given an affirmative reply, so I quickly heated them up before I left for work and the scallops took a ride to the office with me. They were being quickly consumed, but the guys all had one question; “What kind of company did I have over that they didn’t eat all the food?” They were aghast and kept saying: “I can’t believe they didn’t eat all the food!” Apparently, they were all raised on the Clean Plate Club mantra. There was one scallop wrapped in bacon left when someone called out that one of the State big wigs was approaching. No one liked this person and there was a remark that he didn’t deserve a scallop, so the last scallop was stuffed into the mouth of an unsuspecting office visitor, rather than see Mr. Big Wig get to eat it.
Even though the office was out in the middle of no where, it was used by many hunters and fishermen and the general public often called in questions for advice about wildlife. I have a couple of favorite calls. My most favorite was the person who obviously hadn’t spent much time in the Florida back woods; he asked: “Do you still have the hippos?” Hmmmm.... A close second was the guy who called to ask if the bears in Florida were gray. I said I suppose if it were a very old bear, but no, the bears were black. He then proceeded to tell me that he had just seen a gray bear scurry into the bushes at his trailer park. It had a sloping head, it was about 18 inches tall and it had a long bushy tail.... and he finished “my wife thinks I’m crazy!” I snickered to myself and thought; ‘I’ve got news for you, pal! So do I!’ But I was polite and said that it didn’t sound like the description of a bear, but he wouldn’t take my word for it and he wanted to speak to a biologist, so I put one of our biologists on the phone and he, too, said that it wasn’t likely that he’d seen a bear. The man wouldn’t believe either of us and he hung up, still insisting he’d seen a bear. From then on, every time my husband and I spotted a raccoon, we’d say; “There’s one of those Florida Gray Bears!” Another good one, was when a woman called and said that she was sure that panthers were getting in her garage. I questioned her about where she was located and it was in a city. I explained that Florida panthers are pretty rare and they are almost never seen in urban settings. There were only about 85 known panthers in the whole state and they resided in a different area that was far away from her home. She persisted; “But I KNOW its panthers- at least TWO of them!” “Have you seen them or their tracks?” I inquired. “No,” she admitted, “but they make such a big mess in my garage it just HAS to be panthers!” Okey-dokey. How can you argue with that kind of logic?
My boss was well known for being a big tease and sometimes it got on the nerves of the other employees. I’d noticed that he never ribbed me, but I thought it was just because he hadn’t known me for that long. However, one day one of the guys complained; “How come you always pick on us? You never pick on Beth!” My boss nodded; “That’s because she carry’s a big knife! When UPS made a delivery she pulled this big, long knife out of her bag to open the box and I’m afraid that if I give her a hard time she’ll cut my throat!” This struck me as funny, because since I’d grown up in the fishing business, knives were just a tool that you always carried. I always have two knives with me- my heavy ‘Buck’ knife that I’ve used to open cans, boxes, cut rope or whatever and my Swiss Army knife with all the screwdrivers, scissors, tweezers, etc., for any other applications that come up. To me, being without my knives is to be unprepared. I never gave a thought about what anyone else might think of my habit.
Our conservation area always had several studies going on. One was the study of an endangered woodpecker and the scientists who went in pursuit of them were dubbed “pecker-checkers”. These woodpeckers supposedly had very fussy eating and housing requirements, so when my Dad, an avid bird carver, made up a life-sized model of one of those birds, he thought it might be amusing to take some photos of the woodpecker doing unlikely things, like eating corn chips and perched at the world’s gaudiest bird house. He gave me the photos to leave on my boss’s desk at work and it sure gave him and several others as well, a moment’s pause. But, once the guys were in on the joke, they wanted to borrow the carved bird and pose it in a tree on fire or in a dog’s mouth just to get a rise out of the pecker-checkers.
Another study was for quail. We had two men working on that project and they couldn’t have been more different, but they were both nice guys. The head of the project was Harry, who was about six-foot-five and 300 pounds. His helper was named Don, and he was about five-foot-four and 140 pounds. They caught quail and put radio collars on them as part of their study and they had three ways of catching the birds. One way was to set out baited traps; but sometimes the traps caught other things- like a full grown beagle, once. They didn’t know where the beagle came from or why it wanted to eat the cracked corn in the trap, but it was crammed in there so tight that it’s fur was sticking out from between the bars on all sides of its prison. Another way was to use a toss-net; a large circular net with weighted edges that is usually used to catch fish, but it was discovered that if you went out with hunting dogs to point out the quail, you could throw the net over a covey and catch quite a few at once. This had its pros and cons, too. Sometimes the dog was so close to the birds that you had to throw the net over both dog and covey and that put the quail at risk of being snapped up by the dog when they attempted to fly off. The other problem was if the quail were hiding in thick brush, sometimes the weighted edges of the net didn’t go all the way to the ground, leaving the quail an escape route. The first time Harry noticed this, he had just tossed the net over an unusually large covey of quail and he was thrilled to think that they’d get to collar so many at once; but then was horrified to see a couple of birds popping out from under the net, so he threw himself on top of the whole thing. The quail panicked upon seeing a giant man dive for them, and Harry was further displeased as he saw the quails’ renewed efforts to get free as they skittered out from beneath the net on all sides and disappeared into the undergrowth. The last method of catching quail was to set up large nets that resembled badminton nets at night when the birds were asleep in their coveys, and then startle them into flying into the nets. I was allowed to help on one of these excursions and it was fascinating. I was mesmerized watching the guys work with the little birds. When I was asked to hold a quail, I couldn’t resist gently stroking its head. I noticed some side-long glances and slight smiles, and I’m sure they thought I was a silly female for petting a quail, but it was a awe-inspiring experience.
Both Harry and Don were from mountainous states and they had to adjust a bit to their new surroundings. Don had told me how the wild hogs kept getting into the cracked corn they had for baiting the quail traps, so he found four boards of uneven length and hastily nailed some legs on the corn crib to get it up off the ground and out of the hogs’ reach. One of the guys from the office saw the corn crib and he shook his head; “Those boys from Kentucky! Tsk! They keep forgetting they’re in Florida where it’s flat!”
Don mentioned that he had bought a large terrarium and he was hoping to catch a baby alligator to keep in it. But, apparently he didn’t tell our boss the whole truth when he brought up the subject with him. Later, Harry came in and he unwitting spilled the beans on Don about the baby gator. Our Boss said: “Ahhh! So that’s what the terrarium is really for! He told me he wanted it to keep turtles in! ‘Alligators’ must be what you Kentucky boys call ‘turtles’.”
Harry and our boss were having a discussion about the need to raise our own quail to bait the traps with female quail which would call the male quail to them and thus attract the males into the traps. I overheard our boss telling Harry to leave the particulars with me- and to have me place the order to buy the quail. Then our boss had to leave the office and Harry came over to my desk and I took notes about how many quail to purchase and when he needed them by, etc. So, I began an Internet search of places to order quail chicks and while I was still looking, my boss returned. “What are you up to?” He asked. I said; “I’m looking for chicks on the Internet for Harry.” The boss’s face was the picture of surprise; “What?!” I was sure he’d remember the conversation he had just had with Harry, but evidently not; “You know- you told Harry to have me do an Internet search for baby quail?” The boss began to laugh and I added; “What kind of chicks did you think I was talking about?!? I don’t think Harry needs my help in THAT department!”
The tiny office had not seen much TLC in years, so when all the guys were out in the field I took advantage of my time alone and would start tearing the place apart and organizing and cleaning it up. One day, I’d just been going through boxes of junk, and I’d gotten to the bottom and uncovered a huge dead spider! I mean, it was HUGE! At least three inches across! At that moment, Harry walked in the door and he saw me holding the box with a horrified expression on my face. Harry looked in the box and without a word; he took it from my hands. As he left the office with it he said; “That’s okay. I don’t like those things either!”
Getting around the woods and swamps of the conservation area was always a challenge, so we got funding to get a ‘swamp buggy’ made up for us and when it arrived, I was invited to go on the test drive with all the other guys. There was only a half dozen of us, so there was plenty of seating for everyone, but the problem was that the vehicle was so tall; I didn’t know how to get in it. The young man who had given me my initial tour of the place on my first day at work climbed down from the swamp buggy to assist me, but being a true gentleman, he didn’t know how go about that without touching me. As I tried to ascend the back of the frame, I saw his hands tentatively moving around- he knew where he needed to push- he just couldn’t bring himself to actually do it! One of the guys, Big Ben, was roughly the same size as Harry, and he saw the predicament. He reached down with one hand and pulled me up into the swamp buggy like I was no more than a child! Problem solved!
These were happy days and my co-workers couldn’t have been more wonderful; but then the job began to change and it became more hectic as the upper levels of State government lost more and more employees and more and more chores were getting passed on to me. I wasn’t making much money and getting no benefits of any kind and it was a considerable drive for me to get to work. My husband was encouraging me to quit and I also knew that this was what my doctors had warned me to avoid, so after two years, I eventually made the sad decision to leave. I still keep in touch with the guys and visit them when I’m in the neighborhood and I’ll always fondly remember the time I had there.
Now-a-days, I get to be a house mouse. I do work part-time in the office of the company where my husband is a site manager, but I’m just a fill-in secretary when they are short on help. (Or ‘under-handed’ for those of you who read my last blog.) I can enjoy being a June Cleaver at last, keep house, cooking, working in the gardens and on my various projects.... and writing blogs.
Updated: 3:21 PM GMT on July 10, 2006
By: PeaceRiverBP, 1:08 AM GMT on July 05, 2006
My Brilliant Career III (again, with apologies to Miles Franklin, author of the real book My Brilliant Career)
After many years of being legally separated, my ex-husband and I were finally getting divorced. I had dated a little and had a few very serious relationships that included marriage proposals, but nothing ever worked out. I was in no hurry to get divorced but it was a good feeling to know that I would soon be free. When the day we were due to appear in court arrived, I put on a nice dress and heels and began my drive to the court house, which was about a 45 minute jaunt across Cape Cod. I should add that I am very near-sighted with an astigmatism and I had been too poor to afford glasses for many, many years. It wasn’t much of a problem because I didn’t do a lot driving and since I could see big things, I only needed help reading signs. My daughters had been acting as my seeing-eye dogs, reading signs for me if I ever needed to find a new place; but this day, they were busy; my oldest daughter was working and my youngest was a Senior in High School. All the same, I thought I could find my way to the County Court House complex okay. I made it there with no problems and walked into the Court House building. Once there, I was surprised to see a metal detector which was flanked by two burly sentries. I hadn’t even thought about that possibility or I would have taken the two knives and can if mace out of my purse. I should have known this was going to be one of those days. I reckoned the best thing I could do was fess up. “I’m so embarrassed,” I admitted to the two guards, “But, I didn’t even think about what I had in my purse when I left the house this morning- I have two knives and a can of mace; but-“ I added hastily, “I have a Class A license.” A class A license is the highest firearms license that you can get in Massachusetts. You have to be fingerprinted and checked out very thoroughly before you will be issued one and you’re record must be spotless, so this would give the men some idea that I was a good citizen. The two guards took my confession in stride and watched my purse go through the x-ray machine, “Oh yeah,” one said, “There’s a big knife in there!” They let me give them my knives and mace for safe keeping saying “Those are good things to have.” They said I could collect them on my way out. When I later related the story to my cousin, she said I should have told them: “Well, I AM going to be seeing my ex-husband!”
In the mean time, I sat down and waited for my lawyer to show up. I waited and waited. No lawyer. So I went back to the guards and asked them if they’d seen her that morning, thinking that she might already be in court on another case. They responded that they hadn’t seen her, but then she usually worked in Probate Court. Ut-oh! I thought I WAS in Probate Court! So, I had to ask where Probate Court was and they pointed to another building on the far side of the parking lot and gave me back my knives and mace, suggesting that I lock them in my car before I entered the other building. I thanked them profusely and did as they suggested. Now, I walked up to the building at the end of the parking lot, squinting like Mr. Magoo, trying to read the signs to be sure that I was entering in the right building and the correct door! Luckily, I located it this time. I found my lawyer and she made a last ditch attempt to get me to change my mind about not pursuing my ex-husband‘s million dollars in assets, but I had since gotten over the heart break and I didn’t want any part of him or to be beholden to him in any way. All I wanted was my freedom.
I was doing fairly well in life. I had bought a small two bedroom place and I was working at Dockside Marina (again, all names have been changed) as the Marine Supply Store and Parts Department manager. This Marina was located on the harbor where my Dad had kept his sea scalloper and his charter boat, so I knew many people there and in fact, I’d been hired with out even filling out an application. I had left my old job managing a shipping department with much regret, but this new job paid better, offered full benefits after you were vested and it was closer to home.
The marina was owned by Lou Rosetti, a middle aged man with a delightful wife who always remembered to send flowers on my birthday. Lou was also generous and sweet and a bit of a character. He was fond of drinking with his pals, especially when his wife was out of town and one such evening, he got into an argument with some strangers at one of his favorite watering holes, and he was really nervous that they might follow him home and start some trouble. He had just bought a sawed off shotgun, but he wasn’t familiar with how to shoot it, so after he got home, he took it out of its hiding place under the bed, and sat on the edge of the bed to look it over. He was somewhat under the weather as he held it between his knees, mussel pointed toward the pink shag carpeting, and their little dog pranced at his feet. He gave the trigger an experimental tug and BLAM! The room echoed with a roar as the shotgun went off and Lou’s dog escaped to parts unknown. Lou looked down to see a gaping hole in the pink carpet. Always one to know how to handle things, he managed to get a carpet man out to his house that night, and there was no evidence that anything had happened by the time his wife came home the next day.
One day, Lou came into the Marine Supply Store with a tattered flag in his hands and he asked me to order him a new one, just like it. I looked at it, it was an Irish flag with green, orange and white stripes and I was perplexed, because with a name like Rosetti, Lou was obviously not Irish. “But, Lou, why do you want me to order an Irish flag?” Lou replied pleasantly; “That’s an Italian flag that I’ve flown on my flag pole for years. One of my neighbors gave it to me as a gift, but now it’s all worn out and I need another one.” I persisted; “But Lou, this is an Irish flag- see it has green, orange and white stripes.” Just then I remembered that Lou was colorblind and Lou suddenly realized that his neighbor had taken advantage of that fact: “God damn that O’Reilly!” He cursed, “I’ll get him for this!”
When a new customer introduced himself to me, he said his name was Tommy Houdde (pronounced hood) and he said he’d be keeping his boat at the marina and he also announced that he was a distant cousin of Lou’s wife. He asked if Lou was around. I pointed to Lou as he walked in at that moment and Tommy Houdde walked over to Lou; “Hi Lou, do you know any Houddes?” Lou’s eyebrows inched way up his forehead and he seemed taken aback, “Well, I used to know some hoods in Providence....” Tommy just about doubled over laughing and he had to clarify that he didn’t mean that kind of hood!
Like most boat yards and marinas, there was never a dull moment at Dockside. Even during the slow season in the middle of winter, we kept ourselves occupied. Many of the employees liked to play hockey on local ponds, so they often organized weekend games. One day, it had just snowed, so they wanted to take off from work and clear the snow from the ice and have it all ready to play on the next day. They brain stormed and decided that it would be quicker to cut a hole in the ice and use a gasoline powered pump to pump the fresh water on top of the snow, which would then freeze over-night, as opposed to expending all that effort that would be required to shovel out a play area. Three of the guys drove to the pond and used a chainsaw to cut a hole in the pond, and then they began to hose down the snow, towing the pump behind them by the hose, as though they were vacuuming with a canister vacuum. No one noticed when the pump tipped over, and gasoline started to run out onto the pond’s frozen surface. A spark from the motor ignited the fuel and the flames raced to follow the trail of the capsized pump. At this point, the guys finally noticed that the pond was on fire and their first response was to blast the flames with the water from the still operating pump. But, as many of you may know, when you try to douse an ignited puddle of gas with water, all it does is make the fire spread out. It took some doing, but they at last managed to extinguish the fire and they returned to the marina wet and discouraged.
Another day, the marina staff was called upon to load a dead humpback whale into a 40 foot trailer. The whale had died off-shore and local marine scientists were eager to do a necropsy on it and had towed it into the harbor by boat, but they had no way to get it into the tractor trailer they had hired to pick it up. So, using the massive travel-lift that is used to launch and pick boats up out of the water, and a fork truck, they successfully lifted the huge whale out of the water. One of the guys saw a great photo opportunity and he ran for his fishing pole and camera. He posed in front of the whale as it dangled in the air, fishing pole in hand, and had his picture taken for all posterity.
I was working many hours; sometimes over 60 hours a week and even though I enjoyed the job, I was really exhausted. A customer was complaining about the wait to get their boat serviced and I tried to say something comforting- like we were under-staffed or short-handed - but in my tired state this came out of my mouth; “I’m sorry, it’s just that we’re really under-handed!” The woman frowned at me and I tried to hastily correct myself, but she wasn’t amused. Another time, one of the guys wanted me to find him barrel bolts, also known as sex bolts. I called all our suppliers without any luck, but then one of our distributor’s salesmen came in to see if we had an order ready so I told him that I was looking for something – did I say I was looking for barrel bolts? Did I say I was looking for sex bolts? Nooooooooo- I said “I’m looking for sex nuts.” The salesman grinned; “I’m a sex nut!” Oh, dear.....
At the end of the 2001 summer season, I suddenly became very ill. The illness seemed to be a bad case of the flu, but the symptoms changed to severe aches and pains, muscle tremors and an irregular heart beat. I had a fever for almost three months before doctors managed to knock it back with anti-biotics. I felt like I was in a walking coma for seven months while I underwent all kinds of medical tests that didn’t find anything wrong except that I had some kind of infection. The cause was never identified, but it encephalitis was suspected and I was told that I had to change my lifestyle and that I would have to be on medication to regulate my heart beat for the rest of my life.
I took stock of my life. My daughters were grown and they were both doing very well. I knew I could sell my home and make a nice profit and move to an easier climate; as winter weather aggravated my health problems. My parents had retired and moved to SW Florida and they were encouraging me to do the same, so I decided that I’d fly down there and if I didn’t hate it, I’d relocate there.
In the summer of 2002, I put my house on the market and flew to SW Florida several times until I found a house I wanted to buy. I not only didn’t hate it there, I loved it! And I loved the new house I found. I had bitter-sweet feelings about leaving my longtime home. I’d grown up on Cape Cod and even if it was a very expensive place to live, it was a very sheltered, cozy existence. It was the kind of place where I knew most of the people I ran into when I went to the grocery store or the Post Office. I’d be leaving my daughters, most of my family and my friends behind. It’s been four years and despite occasional visits, I still miss them. Oddly enough, all my dreams take place on Cape Cod, even if the people in the dream are people I’ve met since I’ve moved to Florida.
However, except for missing my old home, I have adored being in Florida. Shortly after arriving, I was hired by the State to work in a small field office on a large conservation area and I met my husband to be. I had been gun-shy about marriage for many years, but I finally met the guy who would cure me and we married on Valentine’s Day 2004. We were very happy together and my new job was all I hoped for and more.... but that will be the subject of my next blog.
Updated: 12:54 PM GMT on July 05, 2006