Thursday, November 26, 2015

Strays - A Story of Giving Thanks

From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption by LB Johnson

I have some very close friends that have a half dozen cats at their country home, all of which I believe, were dumped out there by the unfeeling .  All were found cold and extremely hungry. It's good to see them now, well fed, happy and cared for as indoor cats in a spacious country home with a huge basement for them to explore. I remember evenings with my old black lab Barkley up on the couch, surrounded by the original four cats, their purr of content as they lay on top of the couch or next to him, drawing on the warmth of his big furry body, suffering the occasional snoot with a clawless and gentle swat to his nose.

These cats are family, but still, I am a dog person, even as I have a soft spot for any animal that is homeless or mistreated.  Walking through my neighborhood with Abby, our new rescue dog, yesterday, I saw a cat, arrested within the eyes of that dog, pulled up high in the apostrophe of fear as he held poised for fight or flight.  I pulled Abby gently away, as she had cats at her foster Mom's house and we weren't in for a rumble. But I didn't want Abby to get a clawed nose for her curiosity.  The cat's coat was in good condition as far as I could tell,  but it was a thin, likely a stray. I was going to see where it went, where it might have a home, but  it was gone in a flash before I could check on its well being. I'd seen her before, always hanging around the same spot in the fence, where she likely had found a safe place to sleep.
We see them on the streets, in shelters, the fortunate ones collected by rescue groups, the unfortunate--the look in their eyes, heartrending.

But animals aren't the only "strays" we see, people fall into that same category.  I'm not talking homeless, necessarily, but those people that by circumstance or transplant find themselves in a new city, for a new job, or a fresh start, where they don't know anyone, or are stranded somewhere while traveling for a day or days, due to weather and fate.

I found myself in that circumstance the first year I was in Indiana.  I'd only been on the job a few weeks, not enough time to make any friends. I'd  moved here from back east, too far to visit any old friends after the cost of the move. My parents were in San Diego at my Step Aunt's condo, where they spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas after my Mom died and my dad remarried two years later, to a widow with three adult kids.  I wasn't invited-- the place not being big enough for the whole blended family.  Dad felt badly I'd be alone, but he wanted his wife to be happy, her time with her sister, growing short, the rest of her siblings gone. I understood that, and would visit them for a belated Christmas at home on their return, but it still made the holiday lonely.
I remember walking out to my little VW Jetta from my workplace the night before Thanksgiving that first year there, as the sky spat cold rain, and felt a tear on my face. I'm not sure why, as a professional pilot in my younger days, I'd spent many a holiday alone, on call or in a hotel.  Years, later, holidays were busy times at work.  But that night it sort of got to me-- I really had no place to go but home to Barkley and a sandwich, my kitchen torn up for remodeling. I was hoping someone would remember that I had no family near, and would turn around, pulling back into the parking lot to ask me to join them for dinner the next day. As I walked to the car, I got a gleam out of the corner of my eye in the darkness, a movement and I smiled thinking someone remembered me and was turning back with an invitation. But it was nothing more than an illusion, that faint glimpse of reflection imagined there as you gaze into the depths of a wishing well, only to find cold stillness.

There was no car, just a flash of light reflected off a nearby rode, and  it brought back every moment as a child, those moments we have all had, when we feared we just didn't fit in, that we didn't belong..
I was always the one inviting the new kid to play with us, befriending the nerdy and the odd.  Perhaps it was because I viewed myself that way. So when  I was a very young flight instructor, living out of a suitcase with no roots, I decided to continue that tradition and  share my table with others like me. With most of us on call to give an "introductory flight" to a prospective student, hoping to earn some dollars to pay next quarters tuition, or too broke to fly home commercially, many of us had no place to go on Thanksgiving day. So I hung a flier up on the instructors bulletin board at my airport, for any errant corporate pilot in the area or my coworkers. An invite to come over to my little place for Thanksgiving dinner.
I'd not say I was "friends" with all these guys from the perspective that we would continue to hang out together when we finished college, going off to fly for the military or the airlines.  These were simply people I'd spent hours in the cockpit with getting my various instructor ratings occasionally getting the &*#@ scared out of us, absorbing the wonderful colors and shapes and shadows of the sky, making temporary homes in a series of small apartments with multiple roommates, cramming as much as possible into the rare 24 hours we actually were off.  So yes, we were family, if only related by adventure and empty pockets. And for that, I could think of no better reason than to peel thirty pounds of potatoes, bake five pies, and to to bat my big green eyes at the butcher to talk him out of that extra ham at half off.

Yes, thirty pounds of potatoes, for although I expected RSVP's from about six people, I ended up with twenty-seven people, pilots I worked with, a couple of our mechanics, and a few corporate pilots that used our facility and stayed at the local hotel while their passengers enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and they got free Cable. They arrived with drinks and chips and  thankfully, some extra rolls and a couple of  pies from the Safeway store.

It was a wonderful evening, with massive quantities of food eaten, countless stories told and much laughter, eating until we couldn't eat any more. There was something starry in the kitchen that night, where I learned as much about my ability to organize and create as I did about the essential bond that a meal around the table creates, even if it's a bunch of card tables shoved together with white bleached sheets over them.
Did it mean that we all got along perfectly after that night? No, for there were still those days that intruded darkly on hours normally full of light. Those long close quartered days where we plowed through thick dark clouds to reach ice covered firmament, cursing the weather and long lines for takeoff. Days where the alarm clock snatched us violently out of wrung out sleep, sweeping us all back into the thrall, impotent for days against returning to home, knowing that instead of getting a nap afterwards, most of most of us would be heading off to night classes.  As much fun as flying could be, after a few months of such a schedule, even the best of us got a little self absorbed. Add  in constant travel, books and study hall, and it was a life of scattered adrenalin, little sleep and scant time for real relationships. Just like life for many of us now, with families and jobs and pets and demands.

But that night, if only for a few hours, we had that bond of family and food, warmth and safety. It was that moment when chance aligns with time, whose only foe is death, and together, death's darkness seems so very far away.
Strays.
You see them at any airport, that frazzled traveler that just missed the last flight, that young person sleeping on the floor after their flight cancelled, without  the means to secure a hotel room. I've offered a hot coffee and a sandwich with a smile to more than one soldier or college student I saw stranded at the airport. Because I have been that young person with rumbling stomach, surrounded by strangers, wanting only to be home.

I had a flight between two Midwest cities a few years back after I'd picked up a couple of days work as a contract corporate pilot  The city whee I was flying wasn't home but it was near where I was spending Thanksgiving with friends when I got the call to cover for a pilot out sick, for a company I'd done some contract work before.  Easy money and the holiday was about over anyway.

The sky was cold and cloudy as I waited for my return light, to be followed by a long drive home, but there was no precipitation  All of a sudden, our flight was cancelled, with no reason given, but we were only told we'd be on another flight real soon. I didn't see any mechanics at the plane, and the flight crew was all there, so I called Flight Service, for the aviation weather, giving them the N number of the plane I'd just flown in, the previous night.  There was severe icing aloft, unusual to be so widespread, but deadly. No one, big or small,  was going to be flying out of that airport, and likely for the rest of the day.
At this point, we were standing in line to be re-booked, the word not having gotten to the gate that he airport would essentially be shutting down flights.  There was a well dressed gentlemen behind me.. We had chatted a bit and it turned out his wife worked at the same bank one of the folks I had spent the holiday with worked at.. I quietly told him about the weather and explained that NO ONE was going to be flying, and I was going to get a rental car now, as the flight was just a "hop" and getting home back to where my car was parked was just a three and a half hour drive. A couple other people overheard.  I said "do you want to go with me?"  With a quiet nod, four of us snuck out of the line.  For it only takes word that the last flights are cancelling to start a disturbed hum in the customer service line, like bees, before they move in an agitated swarm to the rental car counters, with stinging glances to the Priority Customers, the worker bees hoping for one solitary KIA to be left.  I wanted to get out before THAT happened.

The weather out of the clouds was great, just a little snow and we made the trip in four hours, everyone calling their spouses or friends that they would be a bit late, and whether they needed a ride from the airport.. On the drive, we were strangers and we weren't.  We talked of holiday plans, and kids and vacations when it got warm.  There were bad puns, and WAY too many references to the "Trains Planes and Automobiles" movie--something only folks that saw that movie would appreciate. "You're Going the Wrong Way!" one of us exclaimed and the whole car erupted in laughter like we were a bunch of grade school kids, the cool kid--"Those Aren't Pillows!"-- as we laughed again, just having fun, with no fears of rejection or hurt or loss.
With a stop for sandwiches at one of the toll plazas, we soon made it, only to find the terminal pretty much deserted, most of the flights coming from north or east also cancelled inbound.  They thanked me for making that call and offering to pay for the rental car. I had let them pay for gas, and that's all I wanted.

We said our goodbyes and walked away towards home. The sun, who's brilliant form dwarfs us all into the smallest of particles upon the earth as we are held within it's glare, was hidden behind the steeled gray of cloud cover. With it's brightness now captured behind a stratified door, the night fell upon us as we walked to our cars, it was as if we were all just shadows, covered with a fine, soft scattering of night, falling like ash.

I never saw any of them again.
Thanksgiving for me that year was one of those "sandwich days", not for lack of an invite with friends, but personal and work related.  Still, it gave me time to think and reflect, something that is as important as giving thanks.  The human heart is is large enough to contain the entire world, and it's small enough to be felled by just one being, yet it is valiant enough to to bear all burdens, when you realize you are not alone.

As the phone rang with the cherished voice of my husband, letting me know he had reached his destination safely,  I realized I had much to be thankful for. Even in an empty house there was a gentle doggie snore of an adopted friend until the clock struck the duty hour and I gathered a black bag and gear in case the phone rang in the middle of the night. But before that occurred, there was something I needed to do.  With a quick warm  hand pressed for a moment on top of a cold square box in which my furry best friend lay, I left the house and walked to a little store a block away, a can opener and a little plastic bowl in my pocket. I got some cat food, and put it out in a bowl along a solitary fence.

For everyone, at one time, is a stray.
LBJ

Saving Grace can be ordered today from Amazon at the following address and the Kindle is just 99 cents for the holidays - all proceeds go to Animal Rescue

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1478754141

8 comments:

  1. Happy Thanksgiving, Brigid - and to EJ and Abby, too!
    Stay safe...

    gfa

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  2. Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving, all of you.

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  3. Much love from Samara and me to your household.

    May you have a blessed Thanksgiving.

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  4. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. :-)

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  5. I am ordering Saving Grace for myself for Christmas. Blessings.

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  6. As a consultant/contract worker I was a stray most of my adult life until forced to retire two years ago. I understand both sides of this story, having been there many times. I'm glad to know you helped out where you could, it makes you a better person for it. I'm not at all surprised you did, it fits your persona quite well.

    Merle

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I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..