Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tough Times? Tetherball Anyone?

by David G. Woolley

Fads and fashions. I've never understood them entirely. Maybe its because they come and go so fast. Blink and you miss it. I never noticed when bell bottoms shrunk, tie-dye became a polo shirt or when the skateboard came, then went, then came again. Fads are cyclical. I'm still waiting for the hula-hoop to come full circle. When it does, I'm breaking out the record collection. Gonna play the pointer sisters' "We are Family!"

I never owned a pair of Batman pajamas, Big Bird bed sheets or a transformer action figure with teleporting capabilities. I wasn't deprived. In Iowa we had tetherball. There was some nasty weather there last week. Seventeen tornadoes, seven deaths. I got an email from some friends. They're okay, but the hog farm got vaporized.

Our smallish Iowa city tested the emergency warning system at noon. Everyday. We set our clocks by the siren. It was a heads up reminder for mom and dad that tornado season had arrived, but then it was nearly always tornado season in Iowa. For us kids it meant lunch. Toast strips dipped in tomato soup.

We tracked a lot of mud inside after one particularly nasty afternoon storm. From the roof of our backyard shed I swear I saw a funnel cloud. Mom shook a can of orange Shasta at us while telling us that, "Where have you been? Its bad outside. You're going to clean up this mess and learn to be more responsible or else."

"Or else what?" I asked.

She popped the tab on the can and spewed pressurized soda across the ceiling and over both of us. We laughed.

The sirens were loud, blaring, four-foot-wide, yellow horns placed strategically all over the city. I know. I used to map their location with the help of a trusty Schwinn bicycle. There was one near the entrance to the Pine Cone Forest, home of the largest evergreen trees this side of the Redwood National Park. Forty fire-breathing monsters with scaly skin and claws hid in dark shadows behind the thickest tree trunks. They ate pine cones and kids.

There was another siren on the bike path at the top of Big Hill. It was the steepest stretch of one lane asphalt in the whole world. If you did big hill with bad breaks you were gonna end up in the skunk river.

The Mighty Skunk. I found a lot of golf balls in that river. Nearly cleaned out my dad's spare change. He was the golfer. I was the caddy. He paid me fifty cents for every ball. Dad died of cancer last year. Nasty, terrible disease. We placed golf balls in floral arrangements at the funeral.

One stormy summer evening the sirens woke me up and I swear when I looked out the window I saw a man dressed in black running down the street carrying a bulging black sack on his back. There was something squirming inside. I thought he'd stolen my sister and I went back to sleep without telling anyone. Dad carted us to the basement a few minutes later where we waited out the worst of the storm. My sister was there. I didn't ask her how she escaped.

The media has reported a lot of disasters this month. Tornadoes all over the country, even in places that never have tornadoes. Have you ever heard of one in Los Angeles? There was a cyclone in Myanmar. It sucked up enough seawater to flood the entire coast. Myanmar doesn't have a lot of beach front property, but there was enough to wreck havoc on the lives of hundreds of thousands. There have been some major earthquakes the least of which are gas prices. I'm still reeling from the aftershocks. Oil goes up eight bucks a barrel and its a modest increase? They say its a sign of the times. Increasing numbers of natural disasters. Decreasing amounts of human kindness. Exactly how do you measure the amount of human kindness? By weight or by volume? And then there's that Economic slowdown. That's the disaster that scares nearly everyone.

I've slowed down to 55. Got 30 miles per gallon in my Ford Explorer last weekend. Amazing what a little less pedal will do to the wallet. My friend's mom, Phyllis, used to drive her yellow station wagon on the freeway to soccer games at 55. That was when gas sold for cents on the gallon. He spent twice as much time in the car with his mom than any of the rest of us. We used to tease him until we found out the drives turned them into really good friends. Maybe an economic slowdown has some advantages.

An official in my church, Boyd K. Packer, gave a talk a few Sundays ago. He told the congregation that things were likely going to get tough. He won't be the last spiritual adviser to raise that kind of warning. He used the word frugality and he quoted the verse: "Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Or do without." It worried a lot of people. Could they afford the Caribbean Cruise? Should they eat out less? What about saving some money for a rainy day? And then there's that nagging debt.

The warning sirens don't worry me too much. Mom and dad taught me well. I know how to play tetherball.
Join author David G. Woolley at his Top of the Morning Blog or his Promised Land Website

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