Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cat tale

One thing I swore that I would never do was cut my cat's fur — especially into a poodle cut.

But Halo turned out to be something different.

Halo, you see, is a Ragdoll, and Ragdolls are, by nature, docile, blue-eyed, long-haired cats.

The devil cat, with fire in her eyes, pre-grooming...
We had a Ragdoll once before, Do-Little, who was as sweet as they come. When you picked her up, she'd go limp in your arms (like a ragdoll, hence the name of the breed). She'd brush against your legs as you walked by, and purr contentedly when you stroked her fur.

After Do-Little passed away, we thought we'd get another Ragdoll. And in anticipation of similar Do-Little attributes, we named her Halo.


Turns out, Halo has yet to read the Ragdoll manual. Now a year old, she still nips at your ankles, swipes bare-clawed at your hands and wriggles out of your arms if you try to hold her  for more than 15 seconds.

We've considered renaming her Pitchfork.

One of the things Halo/Pitchfork won't let you do is groom her. If you approach her with a comb, she takes a defensive karate stance and dares you to even think about combing her.

So we don't.

Consequently, her incredibly fine silk-like fur gets easily matted, especially on her belly and haunches. We tried to comb them out — even cut them off with scissors — only to have Halo disagree.

So we decided to have her professionally groomed to have the mats removed.

We took her to the vet where I dropped her off, but within the hour we got a phone call telling us to get our cat because she was hissing and scratching and generally making a nuisance of herself. The only solution was to try again, but they'd have to sedate her first.

So a week later, we tried again. I'm not a fan of sedating pets, but something had to be done. We suggested a lion cut for Halo and wondered how that would work out.

Halo shows off her new lion cut, which we think she likes. We think.
 A few hours later, the vet called and said Halo had done fine. My wife picked her up after work, and when I got home from my job, I was eager to see the results.

And, you know, it wasn't half bad.

Halo was still a little groggy from the sedation. She had been given a buzz cut all along her torso, from tail to neck, but the mats were gone. Fur still remained on her legs below the knees (making her look like she was wearing boots) and her fluffy tail was untouched. I think her new lion cut somehow appeals to her feline DNA.

She looked, well, kinda cute.

And there seemed to be another benefit from all of this. I'm not going to say that she'd gone through a personality change — you still can't hold her for more than 15 seconds — but she does seem to be a little more personable. She gets underfoot and loyally follows us everywhere through the house. She purrs when you stroke her. As the heat of summer descends upon us, I think she somehow appreciates her new look.

We figure it'll take about three months for her fur to grow back — just in time for winter. In the meantime, we plan to comb her buzz cut daily, just to get her used to the idea. So far, she hasn't resisted.

We'll see.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dad's decision

A member of my extended family recently asked, via Facebook, if anyone in the Wehrle clan could explain why my father, Charles, gave up a career as a secondary education English teacher to enter the ministry, eventually to become a Moravian minister.

Good question.

I'll try my best to answer it. All I can do is replay snippets of conversations that I heard, or remembered from more than 50 years ago, as I spin this tale. I invite my brothers to join in and add anything further that they might know.

By the late 1950s, Dad had already shown a predilection for professional antsyness. He'd resigned his position as a teacher at Fountain High High School (near Bethlehem, PA) to join the American Red Cross.

Dad in his church office, probably working on a sermon...
 He'd been a teacher for nearly 10 years, so I can't really explain why he chose to go in such a different direction. A clue might be that his mother, Charlotte, served as a volunteer in the American Red Cross' Gray Lady Service in a local hospital in Allentown, PA, so maybe that was a factor.

That was an exciting time for me. It meant a weekend visit to Washington, DC, as Dad took care of some clerical business while at the same time giving me a real dose of American history. I was about 8 or 9 years old and saw all the sights — the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial. It was great stuff.

Dad shortly thereafter got stationed to Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, NH. More history. John Paul Jones lived in that town for a while. New England foliage. The ocean. B-52s and F-100s. Woo hoo.

But all that lasted less than a year. Dad was afraid he'd eventually end up being stationed in some remote outpost, like Guam, where he wouldn't be able to bring his family (as the story goes). So he quit and went back to teaching high school — this time, in East Hartford, CT.

We stayed two years. Somewhere in this span, Dad was wrestling with another decision he was about to make — whether or not to enter the ministry.

I have it in the back of my mind somewhere that Dad had often considered the ministry during his life up to this point. Plus, I think Charlotte might have been a factor in that, too. Dad was her only child, and the ministry would be so ... so ... well, so virtuous (as if teaching was not).

I do remember him telling me that he "heard a calling" to become a minister, which made me wonder if he actually heard voices. I never investigated that with him and I'm really not sure he actually heard anything. But I think it's more likely that he felt something.

I don't know if there was anything that pushed him into his ultimate decision — I wasn't privy to his conversations with Charlotte, or with Mom, or with God, that might have led to his decision (Kim remembers hearing from somewhere that Nana actually wanted him to be a doctor) — but it was back to Bethlehem for three years of seminary at Moravian College.

After receiving his Divinity degree  — he loved to impress us with his limited knowledge of Hebrew — he was assigned his first church. This one was in Coopersburg, PA, just south of Allentown. It was a neat little church whose congregation was sharply divided about the direction the church should take.

Ah, yes. Church politics. I'm not sure that was a course offered in seminary, but I think the experience had Dad thoroughly disillusioned. So after a year or so, it was back to teaching high school English at Palisades in Bucks County, PA.

So we moved again, this time to a place called Perkasie, about an hour out of Philadelphia. That is, until Dad heard the calling yet again. I wasn't kidding about his professional antsyness.

By this time, I'm in college and not at home very much. I remember moving yet again, this time to Center Valley, PA, although I don't know why. It was the last time I lived with my folks before I moved to North Carolina. That was 40 years ago.

In the meantime, Dad reentered the ministry (hotly pursued by his church demons, I guess), first taking a Moravian church in Dover, OH, for several years, and then following that with a church in Sister Bay, WI, not far from Green Bay. This somewhat explains why I am a closet Packers fan.

Dad seemed happiest in Wisconsin. As far as I know, he loved his church, he loved his congregation, and he loved his location. He played golf whenever seasonal, and then used snow skis to get from here to there in the heavy winters.

I'd love to say that Dad could have lived out his life in Wisconsin, but not the way I had in mind. One day he called us to say he had prostate cancer that somehow got into his bones. It was lethal. He died when he was only 58 years old. He is buried in the church cemetery there.

So the rest of MY life with him is through memories. Based on what I knew of him, he was a great teacher, full of life and personality. He was a great counselor through his work with the Red Cross, dealing with military personnel incarcerated in the Portsmouth Naval Prison or perhaps struggling with PTSD. He was a great pastor, not just delivering meaningful sermons, but dropping everything to visit someone in need of his services.

He was a pretty good friend, too, still offering guidance and counseling to his three sons, of whom he was quite proud. He told me that one time.

And so, today, I simply say thanks, Dad. Thanks for the life you lived.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Blowing Rock rocks

We were off to see the Wizard, but I ended up buying underwear instead.

OK, I see that I've gotten your attention.

Here was the plan:

A few weeks ago, Kim heard about an event at Beech Mountain's The Land of Oz, a popular amusement park where she had once visited as a young girl before it closed for good in 1980 after just 10 years. Each Friday this June, the park — still in need of serious renovation but now serving as something of a Nostalgia Land for generations of Ozzies — is going to open for its "Journey with Dorothy" program, where you get a one-hour guided tour through the surviving park, on the Yellow Brick Road, by Dorothy her own self. (see here).

Hmmm. Kim and I had gone several years ago in October when the park opened for one weekend in the fall in something of a mass free for all (it wasn't free — there was an admission) that was still kind of cool. So we thought we'd go to the Journey event. All we had to do was reserve our tickets online on the Monday before the Friday we were planning to attend.


At 9 a.m. sharp, when tickets went on sale, I jumped on my laptop, typed in the URL, and got ... a 404 server file message. That usually means the server is down, or busy, or something. Kim also tried it at work, and got nowhere as well.

Here is the new location for Art in the Park. Kim and I go early...
 After two hours of trying, we finally got to the page we wanted — only to find that tickets were already sold out.


We found out a day later, through some news story, that apparently 200,000 people tried to get their share of the 360 tickets that were available.

Good grief.

The good news was that we had reserved a motel room in nearby Blowing Rock for that weekend, because Art in the Park was also going on. We like Art in the Park. We've gone for one weekend there every year for probably 20 years or more. The town is quaint, the food is good, and in summer the temperatures are usually 10 degrees cooler there than in Lexington.

The line for ice cream was lengthy...
 Like this past weekend.

As we arrived in Blowing Rock on Friday, we stopped at the Shops on the Parkway, a usual detour for us.

That's where I upgraded my personal undergarment wardrobe. Not quite Oz, but still purposeful. And on sale.

Saturday's Art in the Park moved its location this year. In the past, it was actually behind the park, on the top floor of a parking deck. This year, the vendors were located on both sides of the road leading to the parking deck, which makes sense. Cars can actually park on the deck now, freeing up parking space on what's usually a very congested Main Street.

The low-humidity weather was spectacular — so spectacular, in fact, that we forgot about Oz — and consequently Blowing Rock was slammed by day trippers (well, there was also a horse show going on nearby). A good indicator of weekend attendance is Kilwin's, an ice cream and chocolate shop that becomes the town's focal point. A line of ice cream enthusiasts stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. Business was good. Most take their cones and cups to the park across the street, sit on the benches under the shade trees, and watch people try to parallel park their cars on Main Street. Some drivers, it turns out, are better than others.

It was one of our better weekends on the mountain — even without Dorothy.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali

The best sparring I ever saw from Muhammad Ali came during his televised (staged?) bouts with legendary announcer Howard Cosell.

Or so it seemed.

Bear with me now. I'm hearkening back to the increasingly turbulent mid-1960s. I'm still a teenager, and Ali — who had just changed his name from Cassius Clay —was becoming something none of us had ever seen before. Especially in boxing.

I was never a fan of boxing. Watching two men pummel each other is not my idea of fun. The Sweet Science? Really? Boxing is not something I wanted to do in my free time after school, like play stickball or toss a football around. I wasn't into throwing right hooks at the heads of my friends.

And yet, when ABC's The Wide World of Sports aired a boxing match with Ali, I didn't want to miss it.

Part of that was because of the relationship between Ali and Cosell, which at first glance almost always appeared confrontational. I'm not so sure it wasn't intentional, and well thought out — if not actually choreographed — in advance.

Doesn't matter.

What really caught my attention came in 1967. I was 16 years old and the war in Vietnam was getting closer and closer to my doorstep. It seemed like a war that would never go away, and I was getting old enough to fight in it.

Then Ali, at the height of his prowess as an undefeated heavyweight champion, refused induction after being drafted into the U.S. Army, citing conscientious objector status based on the foundation of his Muslim beliefs.

This was different. An athlete making a stand. A serious stand. He was convicted of draft evasion, and while he never served jail time as his conviction was being appealed, he was stripped of his title and had his boxing license revoked.

We'll show him. How dare he.

Only he showed us. I kind of admired his stance, wondering what I was going to do if I was ever drafted. These days, I wonder if Ali didn't actually give impetus to the antiwar movement that was rising in the country. Civil rights legislation had just been passed. Kent State was still three years away. Crazy times, and Ali was the lightning rod in the thick of it.

Five years later, his conviction was reversed by unanimous Supreme Court decision (is that even possible now?) and Ali's social currency seemed to increase in value. He returned to boxing and gave us the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manilla.

Then came retirement. Then came Parkinson's. Then came inconic status.

He was many things to many people, mostly as an inspiration, but also as a focal point. I had other sports heroes: Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath and Bart Starr come to mind. But Ali was different, and somehow deeper.

And I think we're all the better for who he was and the times in which he lived.