A Thanksgiving Re-Tale, Retold


Thanksgiving 2017 has come and gone. No doubt, you’re braving local Black Friday retail merchant mosh pits, racing countless holiday screen-shoppers to grab Amazon Prime’s carefully timed, uncannily suggested, discounted cyber opportunities, setting up the Christmas tree, and spinning up your local FM easy listening station’s holiday music. All this excitement will leave you famished and you’ll stuff your lunchtime “sammiches” with L-Tryptophan-laced butterball leftovers. It is in the spirit of savory seasonal leftovers that I recycle an already several times told Thanksgiving re-tale.

A Thanksgiving Re-Tale

Thanksgiving 2009 has become the fixed north star on my timeline by which I recall, and in recalling, attempt to measure, weigh, and value God’s immeasurable, infinite and priceless faithfulness to me, and those human agencies through which He so abundantly has met so many of my otherwise unmeetable needs. At the top of my list of human agents is lovely, heroic Alice, my partner in life’s pilgrimmage. The host of names below hers is vast. As I remember you, and as you remember me, know that I love you all.

I also invite you to read an excellent Thanksgiving reflection written by my friend, Sam Frank Smith III.

Blackberries, or Bushes Afire?


Ein Deutsche Prairie Hund


How had it come to this? The boy was treed, 10 or 11 feet up, with the hound from hell below, lunging and snapping at him. It was a good climbing tree. A sugar maple with sturdy branches spaced just far enough apart, permitting him to hoist himself up onto the first level of branches, balance and stand on that limb, grab a limb two levels higher while stepping onto a branch in between, moving higher and higher to safety above fangs and terra firma. Wearing rubber soled high-top Keds that day and possessing opposable thumbs – handy if one hopes to escape death by dog using a nearby tree – Seagy was able to jump and grab a limb 7 feet above the ground, and scramble up the limb-ladder to his perch.

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The hell-hound, a Doberman pinscher named Blitzkrieg, was the obvious canine-Kaiser of this two-acre plot — a stone cold canine killer. Blitzkrieg had a somewhat worn Michelin Premier All-Season radial passenger car tire for a toy. He stood beside it facing its center. Flew drawn back, his muzzle bristled with razor sharp teeth. Bending down, he latched onto the top bead and sidewall, and with immense jaw, neck and chest strength, picked it up with little effort, placing his tire-toy onto the family picnic table. Blitzkrieg’s power was also reflected on a particular limb about five feet above the picnic table and two branch levels below Seagy. It was distressed, stripped bare of bark, dimpled with tooth marks, and glistened with dog spit. Blitzkrieg paced back and forth atop the picnic table, sometimes stepping over the tire and sometimes around it, barring and gnashing his teeth, snapping at Seagy, growling, and spinning in circles. First left. Then right. Manic. Stopping suddenly and rearing up, he exploded, launching himself limb-ward jaws agape. In a wink, he was clamped onto that branch – swinging, growling, glaring, and waiting . . . .

Dundalk Seagirt Hallstadt, Jr. – “Seagy” for short – was in the line of several generation

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s of Maryland Eastern Shore water-men including Skip-jack hands and Baltimore waterfront longshoreman. His grandfather, Frank Karl Hallstadt was himself a third generation water-man who moved from Crisfield to Baltimore’s Dundalk shipyards in 1917 to start a waterside life leveraging industry and opportunities less subject to Neptune’

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s moodiness. Seagy’s dad, Dundalk Seagirt Hallstadt – “Dunk” for short – was named after the town of Dundalk and given Seagirt, somewhat poetically if only a reference to the past (meaning “surrounded by the sea”), as his middle name. Dunk broke ranks and took things inland. He was a talented footballer in the leatherhead days whose standout performance at Baltimore’s Eastern High School caught the attention of Don Faurot coach of the University of Missouri Tigers. He was awarded a scholarship to Mizzou, boarded the train from Baltimore’s Penn

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Station one early August day in 1934 and traveled for four days to Columbia, Missouri where he became a standout halfback in the mid and late ‘30s. After graduating in a post-depression economy, Dunk took employment as a repo-man.

WWII broke out, and when the United States joined the Brits, Dunk enlisted, went


through Army basic training, and was sent to Europe. His unit was charged with guarding communication lines that ran through the Italian grain producing region known as Cerignola. While stationed in Europe, Dunk played for the Army’s Regimental American football squad, occasionally competing against other regimental teams. He would see only one German soldier during his active duty, a dead obersoldat inside a

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barn he searched while on patrol. He relieved the grey clad corpse of its Luger and secreted it home following V-E Day. On a freighter headed back stateside Dunk befriended an infantryman named Houston D. Pruitt – Huey to his friends – from Stewartsville, Missouri and self-described as “just a farm boy from a one-cow farm town” in the northwest corner of the Show Me State. Important connections would soon be made.


Having earned a degree in studio art from Central Methodist College in Fayette, Missouri, Kaye Pruitt intended to strike out for the big city — St. Louis. This put her at odds with her father who wanted her back on the farm. She would have none of that and made plans to move east to St. Louis anyway. Her father threatened to follow her there and bring her back. So Kaye went A.W.O.L., slipping off to Parris Island, South Carolina and returning five years later a United States Marine Corps First Lieutenant, and a skilled marksman – both rifle and sidearms. Relations with her father were said to have improved noticeably. While on Parris Island, she traveled to New York City and met the troop ship that brought Huey back home. On that trip, things leading one to another, Huey introduced Kaye to Dunk. Dunk and Kaye were soon married and raising two daughters. Over the years, every five years or so, Kaye visited Florence, South Carolina, home

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of her fellow-U.S.M.C. Parris Island chum, Ginny Roblais, for impromptu reunions. She did finally achieve her goal of reaching St. Louis when Dunk took employment in the post-WWII automobile manufacturing sector and climbed the ranks of Chevrolet management, first in St. Louis, then Denver, before being posted to Detroit, Michigan. Enter Dundalk Seagirt “Seagy” Hallstadt, Jr.

In 1965, the Hallstadts moved from Birmingham, Michigan (a Detroit suburb) to Shawnee Mission, Kansas (more precisely, Prairie Village) in Johnson County. Seagy was four then and at the age when memories start to take root. Other than the silver tinsel Christmas tree with its slowly spinning red, blue and green color light, he had no distinct Michigan memories. A move to the prairies placed Seagy just a few hours from his mom’s girlhood home, now known as Uncle Huey’s Farm, and planted him firmly in his childhood wonderland.

The back yards of the homes on his street, W. 91st, abutted those of the homes on W. 90th Terrace. A Johnson County easement, known as the Greenway, ran between these back yards. The Greenway was a turf alley bordered by two block-long parallel stretches of six foot high chain link fence with gates placed every third back yard. The fencing was itself flanked by two Osage orange tree lines. Osage orange trees have thick, twisted, knotty trunks. Their wood is dense with irregular, twisted grains and is not considered useful in the commercial production of furniture or flooring. It is, however, virtually rot and decay resistant. With a properly sharpened saw, trunks and branches 6-8 inches thick and 7-8 feet long, which are not not too curved, can be cut for use as fence posts that are known to last for 100 years or more. They produce inedible fruit known as hedge apples — softball sized, light green, with surfaces textured like a brain. Their resin is milky and very sticky. Hedge apples were fine projectiles and often put to use in back yard battles.

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The resin took days to wash off and would ruin a good shirt. A hedge apple’s only edible portion is a seed cluster found at the center. Squirrels and horses (it’s also known as a “horse apple”) are perhaps the only food-chain-fans of hedge apples. Squirrels are fond of their seeds, and so the neighborhood back yard tree line was full of them. Seagy and his mates were often envious of the neighborhood teenagers who were allowed to squirrel hunt, patrolling those tree lines with their Daisy or Red Rider BB guns.

His next door neighbors, the O’Briens, had five daughters and a Great Dane. They were all B’s. Parents Bob and Boots, daughters Barb, Bonnie, Betsy, Bobbie, and Belle, and pet

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dog, Bomber. Bomber, fittingly named, could poop, and often did so in Seagy’s side yard, much to Dunk’s aggravation. Pet progressives, the O’Briens added a potbelly pig to the mix one summer – his name was Bacon. Bacon was maladjusted and would not eat. Having been off his feed for nearly a week, the O’Briens brought a couple of agri-experts out to the suburbs for counsel. Bacon left with them, never to return. In later life, Seagy would come to feel a bit guilty for his enjoyment of certain breakfast meats.

One sunny summer afternoon with time to spare, Seagy found a sturdy empty cardboard box in the garage. Inspired by a slightly overblown friendship with the local postman, and had a great idea. Starting in front of his own house and walking left up the sidewalk, he stopped at every neighbor’s mailbox and removed the mail each mailbox contained. The mail was tossed in his sturdy cardboard box. It grew less empty at each stop. Left up the sidewalk half a block, crossing over W. 91st Street, back down the sidewalk a full block,

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crossing back over W. 91st Street, and back up the final half block, stopping dutifully at each mailbox, Seagy was once again back in front of his own house with a surprisingly heavy cardboard box. Pleased with himself, Seagy showed his mother his collection. Seagy’s mother was horrified. Not stopping to research what the United States Penal Code said about five year-old mail thieves, she emptied, sorted by family address, and rubber-banded the entire box full of U.S Mail, and gave each bundle, twenty-nine in all, to Seagy to be redelivered. She insisted Seagy make 29 separate deliveries. It took an hour and a half. Perhaps not surprisingly Seagy, after a full career as a hotel chain marketing exec, would begin his second career as a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier.

Seagy’s best friends were Tim and Willy Alexandrides, and their little brother Mikey (a.k.a., “Me-Too”). Mikey was always bringing up the rear as the brothers Alexandrides moved about the neighborhood. If a neighborhood mom offered them a refreshment, Tim would exclaim “Yes ma’am!” Willy would cheer “Thank you!” and Mikey would squeak “Me, too!” And the nick name stuck.

To a family-member, the Alexandrides were accomplished western equestrians. Quarter-horse cutters, barrel racers and bull-doggers from cattlemen stock (by way of Greece way back there somewhere), they rode every year in the locally televised Kansas City Thanksgiving Day Parade. Their family den – a great room with a vaulted ceiling and exposed rough-hewn beams that emptied onto a grand semi-circular patio with a border hedge – was

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full of trophy hardware most of which was spread across a 10-foot long hewn beam mantle that framed their stone hearth. Saddles, bridles, chaps, stirrups, lariats, cowboy hats, and riding crops – many of which were finely detailed in turquois, silver and intricate leather work – were wall-mounted and on display.

Summers were always full of adventures, but those were interrupted daily by Tim, Willy and Mikey’s nap regimen. For Seagy, their summertime siestas were ninety minutes of lost opportunity. Impatiently waiting for his mates to rise from there midday slumber and not subject to the nap-rule himself, Seagy often hung out in the back yard of casa Alexandrides. One day, meandering closer and closer to the house, while poking around on their patio he, discovered the back sliding door was unlocked. “Hmm. Well, well. What have we here?” Seagy mused. He slid the door open quietly and stepped inside, listening, keeping statue still, and then tip-toed down the hallway toward the boy’s bedroom, heart pounding, ears ringing, palms starting to sweat. Sure enough, there they were, sound asleep. Something creaked, and Seagy made a quick and slick exit, closing


the slider behind him. In fact, Seagy would play cat burglar several more times that summer, not once being discovered. This fact would accidentally come to light one evening at dinner – a fact about which Dunk was none too happy.

The Alexandrides had a big backyard surrounded by a split rail fence with a big swing set in it that got a lot of use. The four boys would all take turns swinging, two at a time, back and forth, higher and higher, at last letting go to sail through the air. Imagining

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themselves U.S. Army paratroopers, they would land with a thud and roll a few yards for effect. Each tried to outdistance the others, and to spice things up, a non-swinger would station himself near the imaginary drop zone with a Ranch-Mart dime store bow and quiver full of suction cup arrows. To improve projectile aerodynamics, airspeed and accuracy, the suction cups were temporarily removed. Aiming carefully, moving back and forth in sync with his swinging target, leading the target slightly, the archer would wait for separation as his target took flight, and then loose his arrow. Sensibilities back then were less finely tuned. In fact, all four of these friends were hit. Many times. But no one poked their eye out.

The three Alexandrides were often in trouble and, when caught in some almost-daily transgression, would dash through the den, out the slider, onto the semi-circular patio, breaking hard to the right or left for one of two hedge openings into the back yard, then bee-lining it to the fence through or over which their chances of escaping mother Alexandrides’ wrath improved significantly. Mrs. A. shrieking in maternal indignation, was instantly in hot pursuit. She followed the three fraternal offenders through the den and out onto the

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semi-circular patio at a full sprint. Bounding through the sliding glass door, she grabbed a conveniently placed finely crafted riding crop from a hook by the sliding glass door frame. The boys banked left and right, hoping to confuse her, and tried to get through the hedge breaks, turning up field for the back fence. Rivaling any Olympic triple jumper, Mrs. A. took just two more bounding steps, vaulted over the hedge, past several saplings planted here and there, and was on them like a heat seeking mother-missile, two sweaty heads under her left arm, and the third head’s shirt gripped tightly in her left fist, applying the crop of education in her right hand to their seats of knowledge. Because, sensibilities back then were less finely tuned.

Several years later, Seagy’s dad, Dunk, was transferred again. The family pulled up

BB Gun

prairie stakes and headed back to Motown. Summer vacations would occasionally take them back to or past Uncle Huey’s farm, just 3 hours from W. 91st Street, and in the summer of ‘68, the family spent the Fourth o’ July week at the farm where firecrackers, real ones, were available easily and everywhere. After all, sensibilities back then were less finely tuned.

Black Cat

A full week was spent plinking horse and cattle rumps with Seagy’s new BB gun (a belated 9th birthday present bought at the Sears & Roebuck in Cameron), lobbing Black-Cats encased in mud balls at unsuspecting sheep a-grazing, doing a little farm work, and enjoying Aunt Gladys’s cooking. Aunt Gladys (nee, Christo) was herself a Greek immigrant to the U.S. whose family established themselves in Panama City, Florida. She and Uncle Huey met upon his return from overseas and WWII. Once faaaarm living was the life for her, she planted and nurtured a flourishing grape arbor in the back yard that yielded Seagy’s favorite desert – Concord grape pie (a la mode). The grown-ups got to enjoy balloon wine – grape juice piped into balloons that were tied off and placed in a basket with a rag in its bottom for padding. The baskets were hung

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on nails hammered into the floor joists above the storm cellar’s dirt floor. Just cool enough, the cellar held the grape juice filled balloons, and the fermenting juice inflated the juice-filled balloons, causing them to further expand. Uncle Huey would loosely keep track of calendar days while eyeballing the circumference of the balloons, and at just the right moment, known only to him, the balloons would be removed from their baskets, held over a vat and popped. The nouveau-Welches would then be bottled in Mason jars that lined a shelf in the cellar, to be enjoyed on special occasions.

The town’s annual fireworks spectacle that year was unleashed at 8:00 p.m., July 4th, a Thursday, from an array of 32 securely entrenched mortar tubes, and three foot lengths of two-inch pipe, all carefully placed throughout the First United Methodist Church cemetery. Hershel Sorensen and his son, Eddie, had been the show masters for years, and had perfected cemetery mortar placement. As an homage to certain Stewartsville luminaries gone on to their rewards, whose granite and marble memorials were “to spec,” each honorific mortar or pipe was associated with one of 32 specific vertically oriented grave stones, each between 12 and 18 inches tall. The mortars and pipes were driven down into, or partially buried in Missouri sod, angled obtusely a few degrees past right, and resting against the top of the marker. The tombstone of Zebulun Clydesworth, 1874-1953, always supported the top secret grand finale mortar-full. He was much respected

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and beloved having served as Mayor pro tem in 1904 after a tornado destroyed much of Main Street including the Mayor’s office, open for business that day. Then Mayor, Pops Wickham, was sucked out his office window and was never seen or heard from again. Zeb – as he was known – shepherded the town’s reconstruction quite capably and was fondly remembered by many for that. The other pipes and mortars were placed beside specified grave stones of the other Stewartsville luminaries, including that of Pops Wickham.

Fourth of July fireworks were always purchased in February, when the fireworks budget was approved by the town counsel, from Mess’s Fireworks in Bend, PA. The Municipality of Stewartsville now had a Preferred Pryo account, and received 10% off and free shipping. A variety of sky rockets and missiles had sturdy sticks stuck to their fuselages. Their sturdy sticks would be stuck down the pipes until launch-time. Mortars were packed with a variety of aerial comets and mines, repeater cakes, and fiery aerial parachutes that streamed pyro pearls. Big & Bads, 37 Shot Victory Celebrations, Screamin’ Eagles Parachutes, and 48 Shot Color Pearl Flowers were Hershel and Eddie’s favorites. All the the other cemetery stone memorials served as impromptu backstops should a pipe or mortar fall over sending an errant missile out of its intended flight path. For a time, town folk were offended that the First United Methodist Church cemetery was used this way. Only once had a flaming fire orb had ever gotten away endangering man, woman, child and livestock. That was in 1957 when an ignited mortar toppled over unexpectedly, which had not been placed in the cemetery next to a memorial backstop. “Lesson learned” the Sorensens clucked.

Pipes and mortars were aimed east out over Pickett’s Purchase, a 5 acre pasture rented by cattlemen as a temporary grazing lot. A large stone barn was in the lot’s south east corner, and the animals would be herded inside before the show. At 7:30 p.m., the town’s one firetruck pulled through the field’s north gate – a 1960 Mack C Fire Pumper bought at a reasonable price from nearby Gower Fire & Rescue when that town upgraded. Three first responders sat atop the truck’s cab, sipping something, and waiting


for a fire to put out. At 8:00 p.m. sharp, Hershel and Eddie each lit a roadside flare to serve as his his fireworks igniter. Each had four more flares in his deep overall side pocket that would be used that evening. Faces washed in hot red flare light, they walked a carefully choreographed path that wound through the cemetery, igniting each pyrotechnic surprise at scripted intervals, sending it skyward. With every fiery light display, concussion, missile whoosh and explosion, and earthbound flaming parachute, the crowd cheered and screamed and “Ooooooed!” and “Aaaaahed!” Except for the cows in the stone barn, everybody was sad to go home when it ended.

Earlier that week – much to Seagy’s delight – his dad announced they would make a

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Wednesday day trip back to the old Prairie Village neighborhood. “We’ll see who’s around and say ‘Hi,’ and then swing by Ranch-Mart for a Chiefs souvenir” (the Hank Stram Kansas City Chiefs were two-time AFL Champs). “Then we’ll grab a burger at Smak’s before heading back.” Seagy was thrilled. Smak’s was a pre-McDonalds burger and fry joint at W 95th and Mission whose mascot was Smacky the Seal. As a five year old, after morning kindergarten and as a treat, Seagy’s mom would regularly take him to lunch at Smak’s. His mouth was already watering. Most of all, Seagy couldn’t wait to see his mates, Tim, Willy and Mikey.

The family piled into the family Chevy Impala wagon and headed southwest to Kansas City. Out the long driveway that was just two gravel strips for your tires to follow, and across the cattle guard, right onto State Road Y, into town. North up Stewartsville’s Main Street and west at the Star-Lite Diner with its multi-colored-neon-light-spiked-spinning-orb and home of Catfish Friday Specials, onto State Route 32 for a bit. Past Cameron and St. Joseph (eastern terminus of the Pony


Express). South down I-29 for a while to the conflicted KC-Metro, KCKC and KCMO. Not the Twin Cities, but twin cities nonetheless. A bustling rivalry of perception and reputation between the KCKC with its industrial zones and decidedly better barbecue, and the KCMO with its luxuriant, snobby, multi-fountained Plaza district. Twins more like Jacob and Esau than the Gemini brothers. Around I-635, south on I-35 to Shawnee Mission. East on W. 95th Street, north on Antioch Road to Prairie Village and west again on W. 91st. Ten houses up on the right, and they were there!

Not quite noon yet, several people – presumed to be residents – were outside in the front yard. Dunk noted they were not the family who had bought their house several years earlier. He slowed along the curb, coming to a stop, and his mom rolled her window down. She offered a pleasant greeting, and the Brimfords – that was their name – stepped over in a neighborly way. His parents explained they’d lived there a few years back. The Brimfords thought that was so interesting. They wondered if we had known the O’Briens. Turned out the O’Briens moved out past Olathe and had a working hog farm. Dunk said they were good neighbors, but that he always did think their dog needed


a bigger yard – “And a saddle, too” he murmured under his breath. More pleasantries were exchanged, but the conversation quickly drew to a close. Seagy’s mom wanted to see if the Johnson’s still lived up the street. Leanne Johnson was a high school friend of Seagy’s oldest sister, who now lived on Long Island, and Seagy’s mom had played canasta with hers for years. Seagy had no interest in visiting with the Johnsons. They were still sore about the errant mail redistribution. Instead, he asked if he could run over to see the Alexandrides. Approval was given, and Dunk said he’d drive around and pick him up in 20 minutes. Seagy took off running east through the back yards until he came to the nearest Greenway gate. Turning left through the gate, he continued on, passing one gate on the right, then stopping at the second which was one backyard away from Tim, Willy and Mikey’s house. He noticed their backyard was bounded by a


stockade fence, considerably higher than the rail fence he remembered. “No matter,” he thought, as he climbed up and over, anticipating the reunion. He trotted toward the house, noticing the swing set was gone. Coming still closer to the house, Seagy saw that the trees outside their patio hedge were now huge spreading shade trees. Each easily 50 feet tall. A picnic table was under the closest tree, and a car tire sat beside it. There was a rather large dog dish by the home’s exterior laundry room door. He slowed, looking for signs that the Alexandrides were home, scanning from the patio slider, past the laundry room door, to the rear of the garage, to a gate that led to the driveway, back to the hedge break . . . . Danger, Will Robinson! Movement!

Out from the hedge break crept a sleek 60 pound canine with bad intentions. Seagy was frozen in place. The dog was a Doberman named Blitzkrieg. “Blitzie” to those he didn’t plan to eat. He was locked on Seagy, his presumptive next meal, head lowered, ears back, teeth bared, half-stepping to meet the adolescent intruder. Seagy was about twenty yards from the dog and ten yards from the picnic-table-tree. Blitzkrieg was twenty five yards from that tree. Both looked at each other. Then at the tree. Then at each other. Then at the tree. Then Seagy feigned a look toward the driveway gate and as Blitzkrieg turned his deathly gaze that way, Seagy bolted for the tree. He ran a 4.9 forty yard dash in gym class that spring – 24.5 feet per second, and in just three short, powerful steps he was at full speed. In two of Seagy’s steps, Blitzkrieg was on his way at intercept speed – Doberman’s

Sprint Doberman

are known to reach speeds of 35 miles per hour over 50 yards – 36.6 feet per second. Five full strides later, Seagy sprang, planting his right foot on the tree’s trunk, grabbing the second branch up. Pulling himself upward with all his might, and stepping with his left on the bottom branch, he suddenly felt a canine fang tug on the left rabbit ear of his right Ked’s shoelace. He shrieked “I don’t wanna die!” The shoelace slid free from around the dog’s fang, and Seagy’s adrenaline-fueled fight or flight instincts propelled him still higher up the tree. Blitzkrieg was insane with rage, but not tall enough. Seagy was safe but stuck.

Blitzkrieg latched onto the tire beside the picnic table and with immense jaw, neck and chest strength, easily and angrily placed the tire-toy on top of the family’s picnic table. He circled his prey pacing back and forth atop the picnic table, sometimes stepping over the tire and sometimes around it, barring and gnashing his teeth, snapping at Seagy, growling, and spinning in circles. First to the left. Then to the right. Stopping suddenly, rearing up, he exploded, launching himself limb-ward. In a wink, jaws agape, he was clamped onto that branch swinging, growling, and waiting.


With Blitzkrieg below hoping Seagy’s branch would break, Seagy considered his options which were few. Deciding it would be wise to shelter in place, he craned his neck, squinted to see between and beyond the thick maple leaves, in hopes of spotting a neighbor to whom he could call. Seeing no one, he began to call out anyway. “Help! Hello?! Anybody there?! Hello! Can anybody hear me?” His cries for help agitated Blitzkrieg who wanted no one to interrupt his meal plans. He resumed his menacing terrible growling and barking and latched once more onto the spit-coated branch below, glaring at Seagy.

Just then, Blitzkrieg dropped off the branch and stood below stock-still, facing the driveway gate with pointy ears pointed that way. The sound of tires rolling over a gravel driveway could be heard and grew louder. Then a car horn sounded. Again. Dunk had arrived to pick up Seagy. He pulled all the way up the drive, coming to a stop by the back yard driveway gate. At 36.6 feet per second, Blitzkrieg was at and crashing into the gate, snarling like a dog possessed. Seagy called to Dunk. Spotting him up in the tree, Dunk waved in acknowledgement and feigned aggression toward Blitzkrieg. Blitzkrieg grew more intensely hostile and raged at Dunk, leaping again and again against the gate. Seagy called toward the dog, but the dog was now only interested in the prospect of the new intruder and a bigger meal.

Moving to a lower branch and hoping he’d remain unnoticed, Seagy looked toward the sliding glass door off the patio. He could see into the house, and thought he could make out the gleam of a trophy, and other “western equinalia.” He postulated the Alexandrides did in fact still reside there, suddenly remembering the back slider was never locked when he executed his naptime sneak-abouts. It’s now or never, he thought, as he climbed still lower, hung from a bottom branch, and dropped to the ground. Dunk remembered the unlocked slider as well – happier about it this time – and continued to purposely


aggravate the dog, as Seagy sprinted low to the ground, around to the far patio hedge break and onto the patio. Getting flat against the wall, he moved to the slider and grasped the door handle. He pulled and . . . the door didn’t budge. Again . . . the door slid open. Seagy stepped inside, drawing the door closed, he yelled “Dad! I’m in!” But Blitzkrieg was still raging at the driveway gate, so Dunk didn’t hear that.

Observing no signs to the contrary, and wagering Seagy was safely inside, Dunk warily walked around to the front door. Then up the steps, observed by two lantern-holding lawn jockeys who would keep their silence. Blitzkrieg’s barking rage had stopped, and Dunk heard nothing suggesting he had seized any prey. Seagy moved through the den crossing the main hallway that bisected the house, to the front door. He unhooked the door’s chain

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lock, and unlocked its deadbolt, and opening the front and storm doors, just as Dunk rang the doorbell, he fell into his dad’s arms.

A movie moment ensued. Dunk made certain the doorknob lock was set and pulled the front door closed. Then, taking a business card out of his wallet, on the back with his Chevrolet logoed Cross pen, he wrote “Sorry we missed you. Seagy had quite an adventure. Call me so we can catch up, and I’ll explain.” Seagy slid the note snugly between the door and door jam, and the family headed across town for a late lunch at Smak’s before returning to Uncle Huey’s Farm. The Chiefs souvenirs would have to wait.

In fact, the Alexandrides never called, and that was Seagy’s last trip to Prairie Village, but he’d never forget Blitzkrieg the Deutsch prairie hund.

Michigan the second time yielded many distinct Michigan memories. Free passes every year to the Detroit Auto Show at Cobo Hall. Expo ’67 in Montreal. The 1968

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World Champion Detroit Tigers. Annual Thanksgiving Lions games played outdoors in Tiger Stadium – usually against the Packers or da’ Bears. Useful snow in the winter. Did you know you can shovel banked snow in the shape of a rectangle in your backyard, exposing the frozen grass, then sprinkle water from a long laundry room hose for several nights in a row, and make your own hockey rink?! Back yard hockey after school!

One Friday in February 1969, Dunk brought home one of a limited series of convertible Chevrolet Z-28 Camaros that would run as Indianapolis 500 Pace Cars that year. Dunk and Seagy rode around town all that Michigan February weekend, top down, as proud as peacocks and

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the envy of all Seagy’s friends. They saw Dunk’s Mizzou Tigers play the Michigan Wolverines one year in Ann Arbor, and the Michigan State Spartans in Lansing the next. Seagy couldn’t have imagined it a few years earlier, but Michigan parte deux had become his new childhood wonderland.

Through all of this, Seagy realized anyone returning to old haunts is a different person returning. A chapter read once is never read the same way again. And because new


chapters always open, once present chapters must always close. Seagy’s mom saw nothing useful about snow and couldn’t wait for the cold Michigan winter chapters to close. She wanted to live where she could see all of the snow banked mailbox before July. In time, another move would take Seagy, Dunk, and the family back east to Maryland where Chesapeake Blue Crabs would top their list of favorite foods, where he would first swim in the Atlantic Ocean, where he would follow the Washington Senators and Redskins, where there would be very few useful snows, and where their newer, later life chapters would begin to write themselves.

A Thanksgiving Re-Tale, Retold


As the day unfolds in your own Thanksgiving time-space continuum, and as you determinedly brace yourself for too much turkey, you may already be anticipating the butterball leftovers that will stuff your lunchtime “sammiches” tomorrow. It is in the spirit of savory seasonal leftovers that I recycle an already several times told Thanksgiving re-tale.

A Thanksgiving Re-Tale

Thanksgiving 2009 has become the fixed north star on my timeline by which I recall, and in recalling, attempt to measure, weigh, and value God’s immeasurable, infinite and priceless faithfulness to me, and those human agencies through which He so abundantly has met so many of my otherwise unmeetable needs. At the top of my list of human agents is lovely, heroic Alice, my partner in life’s pilgrimmage. The host of names below hers is vast. As I remember you, and as you remember me, know that I love you all.

I also invite you to read my friend’s — Sam Frank Smith III — excellent Thanksgiving reflections.

Blackberries, or Bushes Afire?


Six Years On


Sixth “Accidentiversary.” Not one of those much ballyhooed multiple-of-five years. While solemn, neither somber nor maudlin. Have been inspired and encouraged by valiant victors whose worlds have been rocked by trials far more severe, but who nonetheless press on and do the next thing. In their particular “captivities,” they rebuff despair, endeavor with herculean effort, and prosper, even if gradually — infusing those spaces they occupy in time with great dignity. Chapeau to that worthy group. Grateful for God’s mercy in granting a year of reprieve from medical issues, being able to continue working and to drive (thaaaaat’s right — keep to the sidewalk), seeing every day of the Tour de Frronze, and innumerable other provisions and blessings. For countless agents of mercy who, at varied moments, times and periods, in WIN_20150111_144252 (2)close and from afar, briefly and over the long haul, rehabilitatively, therapeutically, materially and relationally, have encouraged and helped me and my family. At the top of this list I place the lovely and heroic Alice Heidel, my eight children, my two sons and one daughter in law, my three grandsons, my sisters, Dianne Irving and Sue Heidel, Queen Granny Cakes, and my Uncle Sonny and Aunt Chris. All others are in a tie for first, and down stream newcomers will be next year. Life like this is still, if counter-intuitively, rich and worth living because of these trials, these provisions and blessings, and because of you all. I am and remain profoundly thankful.


Passing This Along — True Grit


The following is a wonderful tale of generations and how powerfully they can shape one another. Its author is my family’s creative writing scion, Mrs. Abbott. Set in the Sandhills of Nebraska, it reminds me not just a little of what I have learned through the years about my mom’s upbringing with her brother, Dallas (my Uncle “Sonny”), on a 500 acre northwest Missouri farm during, then out of, the Depression, then through WWII, my mom’s escape post WWII to Paris Island, SC, and then to the big cities after marrying, and Uncle Sonny’s farm living — made there the hard way. I hope you’ll enjoy True Grit. Having proof read many papers written for Mrs. Abbott’s rigorous but profitable senior high composition course, in which six of eight of my offspring enrolled (and which all 6 passed), I am honored to share it with you.



Paternal Blessings and Backhands


“Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope[e] that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.” Genesis 48:22

I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed this verse before. Apologies at the outset — could be a run-on ramble.

At long last, Israel (Jacob) has reached his life’s span and is preparing to move from his century plus pilgrimage onto promised eternal rest. He shares special moments with his Egyptian born grandsons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and then with Joseph. To Joseph he gives an extra parcel of land that might’ve gone to Joseph and his brothers in equal shares, but didn’t. Joseph was his favorite. It was Jacob’s prerogative to show his favoritism. Joseph was the wisest. His wisdom ended up the salvation of his father, his (arguably) idiot brothers, and entire civilizations. I picture this a deal done on the side. I don’t think Joseph’s brothers knew. One could argue they didn’t deserve to know. They had behaved so badly (save Benjamin). I wonder if they felt shame for their behavior. I wonder if some looked at Jacob as “the old geezer.” I think a few of them wanted Jacob out of the way so their lies about Joseph and their hidden dastardly man-stealing could finally stop plaguing their consciences. But however deeply bruised by them, Jacob later blesses all his sons. Some receive a back-handed form of blessing, but they are blessed nonetheless by Jacob. Though offended, though seemingly bereft of Joseph for decades, though worried for their foolish commonsenselessness, he loves them. In degrees, perhaps, but he loves them still. And he blesses them all.

Families are messy things. Having only noticed this verse today, I’ve not ruminated over-much on it, but it does put me in mind of me and my own sons. All pretty good guys. Some more mature, some more academic, some more athletic, all disappointing at times, all pleasing at times, and some closer to me than others with a closeness that shifts and ebbs and flows. I once gave advice to an expectant father: When tending toward anger at your children, keep in mind the longer view and do what you can to preserve friendship capital. Kids can’t pick their parents, and ultimately I did not pick my sons, but here we are. Though they have offended me (and I have most certainly offended them), I love them. I have no basis for rejecting them. In fact I plan to bless them. Maybe not while they place their right hand under my right thigh to solemnize the occasion as in Jacob’s day, but in some fashion or another. And that in spite of their having bruised me. As my friend, Mimi, noted the day I wrote this, love covers a multitude of sins.

Portions, Lots, Lines and Pleasant Places


Psalm 16:5-8 — The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;  indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Portions, lots, lines and pleasant places. You may be picturing generous arable, fertile expanses across which homes are built, families are born, callings are heard, livings are made, and histories are written. Yet not all terrain is gently sloped. Some is more extreme. Frigid. Rocky. Wind swept. Dry and dusty. Some homes are Surveyor Crewnot happy. Some of us are isolated. Some callings are cloudy. Calamitous. And history can be hurtful. Single? Family? Single again? Healthy? Sick? Wealthy? Poor? No matter.

For no matter our lot, parcel or no, short straw or long, steps wrong or right, in ease or the most difficult of circumstances, God makes His saints heirs to His promises and gives them counsel, instructs them in the night, is at their right hand, and steadies them.

Have recently seen this in Abraham’s, Isaac’s, Jacob’s stories. They were flawed and rough, but God patiently herded and prospered them. In Joseph’s abandonment and rise to great civilization saving power and influence. In Job’s hard, hard account. He was upright, yet suffered unimaginably. Great men in great swelling, steaming, surging swaths of flawed messy human history. History whose divine prime mover was no more engaged than He is today, even if more visibly apparent.

Draw near to Him and He’ll draw near to you. Trust in Him. Look to Him. Lean hard upon Him.



Props to the Ohio State Buckeye footballers. Many go unnoticed who carry a heavy burden, with meager prospects, finding little joy along the way. These dJacob Jarviso not often or easily mix with others who are easily idolized and live in glamorous high castles.


Jacob Jarvis’ (and his younger brother’s) story is a hard one, but it’s a good one.

Nice Costs Nuthin’


DrivingI was the recipient of two very kind gestures in late summer of 2009, as I began my in-patient rehab experience at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center as a C7 quadriplegic. Frank Smith III, a close friend from my college days, popped over from Charlottesville bearing gifts he’d received from then Cavaliers football coach, Al Groh.

As a former athlete and relatively obscure member of the Virginia Cavalier football team, I’ve learned, experienced and been known to say that athletics is a realm rich with lessons to be learned. Most are hard. Some are intellectually understood only, long before the professing lesson-understander really owns the force of the lesson. Some lessons are direct, like get right back up when you’re knocked down. Some are unwelcome, like fame is fleeting. And some are more oblique germinating only under the right (usually trying) conditions, like finding true and much needed comfort from the fraternal bond that is forged in the heat of the common struggle, or like practicing the gift of heart-felt encouragement that issues from that common struggle.

Frank was then, and remains, a friend of over three decades, with all the implied common struggles and experiences one might expect. It was he who first approached Coach Groh, requesting a team-signed poster in hopes of re-infusing his newly immobilized friend with pluck and vigor. He took time away from work and traveled the 8 hours from the Hook to Atlanta – bearing gifts, but also being present, reminding me I was not alone.

Coach Groh, midst a difficult season, took time to arrange for not just a team-signed poster, but many extras: a signed game ball, a personalized game jersey (with “HEIDEL” and “71” sewn on), and nine personalized Cavalier football t-shirts, one for my wife and each of my eight kids. This time, we were reminded we weren’t alone.

While it could be reasonably asserted the monetary value of a road trip and the trappings of game-time Cavalier man-cave loyalty were not overmuch, both their gestures were of great value. Both givers were veterans of shared, or of in-common sorts of, struggles. Both gave when giving wasn’t convenient or timely. Perhaps their significance was great to this recipient in direct relationship to the givers’ respective inconveniences. Recipients don’t always have the measure of what givers go through. But I knew. Besides, to hijack a phrase, “A gift’s value is in the eye of the recipient.”

Legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant is credited with having said “Nice costs nuthin’.” Jerry Ratcliffe, sports writer for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, wrote about “Bear” in 2009. I stumbled upon his article recently. Its link is cited below.


I hope you’ll read it, enjoy it, think back over your own lives, and soak-in its lessons.

Bicyclists’ “Blackbox”


Wow! Great article with an amazing outcome (apart from the cowardly driver who left the scene).


I was struck 08-20-2009 by a motorist. A Blackbox camera would’ve been a great forensic resource.

As it turned out, the guy who hit me stuck around but had embarrassingly meager automobile insurance, so it was my own (yes, mine) automobile policy’s uninsured motorist coverage that benefited me. My outcome was C7 tetraplegia (paralysis from mid-waist down), and I dutifully joined the wheelchair brigade.

I urge all cyclists to buy and wear a good helmet, ride with your heads on the swivel, ears open, and to look closely at your own automobile (yes, automobile) insurance policies. Add or increase your uninsured motorist coverage ($500K min.).

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