Why I Still Write:


"It is never too late to be what you might have been" ~George Elliot

"How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these." ~George Washington Carver

"Use what talents you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." ~Henry VanDyke

"With kids, the days are long, but the years are short." ~John Leguizamo (in inStyle)

ALABAMA said it best in the lyrics to their song, "This Ain't Just a Song To Me"





YOU HAVE A CHOICE


We all do. Stuff happens. We don't like it. WE HAVE A CHOICE:
1. Cry and complain. OR
2. Get off your duff and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Read more.





A Remembered Kindness


I can still recall the bitter cold night and how much colder the tear streaks on my face felt. All of the snow we’d gotten, and the clear, cold night that followed. How warm I felt in our house until the phone rang.

Tonight, I was struck by the vivid recollection of that night 24 years ago. I wrote about that night on one other occasion, for an assignment in college. The assignment was an autobiography, so my focus then was my family.

And now I feel charged to report an insignificant detail of that night. Because it took whole minutes for my brain to understand, days to follow up, and decades to reflect on such thoughtfulness on a night of such shock and grief.

From my autobiography, Spring 1999.

January 1999. I am making somebody's idea of dinner that would probably only pass for such under my qualifications. The phone rings; it's Uncle Dennis.

"Hello, Trisha? Did you hear about Grandpa?" In the background I hear Andy say, "How would she know, Dad?"

"No," I say, "What happened." It’s more of a statement than a question. I know something is wrong. I just don't know what.

"Grandpa is dead."

I almost crumple to the floor. "W-what?"

"Grandpa died." I have to sit. Uncle Dennie goes on. I only hear bits and pieces of it; it was like he was talking to me from the moon:

Uncle Dennie was out plowing.... Grandpa's car was in the ditch... He called and sent Andy to find him... Andy looked and didn't find him... Uncle Zeke came over to Williamson's to find out what was taking Grandpa so long in watering the beef... Uncle Zeke found Grandpa's body still warm on the snow outside the barn. Thought to be a heart attack...


I burn dinner. …Probably a good thing.

I call my dad at the office, and he knows. I call my mom who just left for South Carolina two days earlier to spend some time with her sister; she is shocked. I call my brother in St. Paul, where he is a junior at the university there; same response.

Then Dad calls again. "Why don't you meet us over at Williamson's?" It’s phrased as a question, but it is Dad’s way of saying, “Come.” I don't want to, but I will. I drive over and am met by the Sheriff’s squad car and the hugs of family members in the driveway. Aunt Kathi tells me everyone else is in the house as she and Uncle Zeke leave to begin milking. They put it off for as long as possible, but cows don't wait for too long.

I walk in the front door and nearly trip over the body of my grandfather, lying on the front rug, covered by a tablecloth, nothing but his brand-new Northerner boots showing. Not more than a month earlier I bought those boots at Farm ‘n’ Fleet for Dad to give to Grandpa for Christmas. Size 9 1/2, insulated to the ankle, with a tie at the shin. We didn't think he ever wore them until that day.

I gasp and jump to the side of the entryway. Then I cry. Because, suddenly, it’s real. Dad watches me closely and does what he can to console me in his own ways... that are so much like Grandpa's.

Later that night all immediate family members available gather at the farm to discuss funeral arrangements, who called whom with the news, who is left to call, and what each one of us can do to make this as painless as possible. We cry a little and laugh a little... Memories come out when family gets together, regardless of the occasion. We are a family.


***


What I didn’t focus on for this assignment, but have never forgotten, was a teddy bear. Two teddy bears, actually.

After I saw Grandpa’s boots in the house, the tears started. With nothing more we could do there, we all slowly filed out of the house trying to figure out what to do next. The Sherriff was wrapping up his official business at the scene and went to the trunk of his cruiser. He pulled out a teddy bear and handed one to me and one to my cousin Allison. Simply made, floral patterned material, but stuffed just right to comfort and slightly distract two grief-stricken young ladies. Those bears caught our tears and kept us a few degrees warmer.

When the Sherriff turned to leave 15 or so minutes later, we tried to hand him back the bears.

“No,” he said, “they’re for you. To keep.”

“Really?” we asked.

“A group of church ladies makes them for when I get called to scenes involving kids. Something to hold on to.”

Days later, Allison and I reflected on this with my mom, and she suggested that we write a thank you. We didn’t know whom to write it to, and she speculated that by sending it to the Sherriff’s office, that those lovely church ladies would get it.

***


I no longer have that bear. After a time, it became a symbol-- a reminder of loss. I donated it to Goodwill. But the kindness I kept with me all these years. The forethought of those wonderful ladies to consider creating something (many somethings) so simple, yet so profoundly comforting to our basic humanness for events no one wants to willingly think about…

And then I think about the other bears in that trunk, the other kids that held them. I reflect, fleetingly, on the horribleness that happens daily, and know that January night, 1999, was not the worst night ever. By a long shot. My grandpa died doing what he loved: farming. He didn’t die in a hospital. He didn’t waste away from cancer. He wasn’t killed in his prime; he’d lived a good, long life. He was still driving that little grey car that he loved. He found a soft snowbank on a perfectly cold typical winter night and died with his boots on that we bought for him.

There are worse things.


The power of a genuine and unexpected kindness can be anywhere from life-altering to lifesaving. I’ve been on the receiving end of such kindness at least 5 times. The last time was a kind word from a salesclerk at Walmart who could just tell I was having a Bad Day.

It is my belief that these most profound moments of kindness are borne through the experiences of the giver; through our own hardships do we understand the importance and the timing of such kindness. It is only through surviving those experiences that the kindnesses we give can truly be genuine. Otherwise it’s not empathy, it’s just sympathy. I don’t want to be pitied. I want someone or something to remind me that I’m stronger than this moment and I won’t be broken if only for the simple reason that time marches on. There are always worse things.

Since that kindness at Walmart, and the return of my confidence and inner strength, I have tried to always be aware of those around me. Offer help to the 80-year-old lady trying to reach something on the top shelf, amuse the 2-year-old of the tired mom in front of me in line, or chat with a newly-divorced woman behind me in line to pick up her dinner because she has no pots and pans at her new apartment yet.

It’s so easy to focus on the negative; it’s everywhere. As I’m writing this, it’s snowing and 20 days until Christmas. Think back to that snowy night a random stranger pulled your car out of the ditch. Think about that word of encouragement that kept you going when you didn’t think you could go any more. Think about that compliment you received that made you realize for the first time that your inner strength is visible to others.

Remember a kindness.





One Mile At A Time *UPDATED*


This story is Part II of "LIFE ISN'T FAIR." Growing up is hard; thank God I remember my own struggles. I like to believe they give my almost-12-year-old son hope when he understands I was the same way, and I think I turned out ok. It's hard to always have faith and trust that everything is going to be fine. Read more.





Louie


This story is the thousand-ish word version of my elk hunt in 2016. I was talked into submitting it and it was published that following spring in ELK HUNTER magazine. .Read more.





Camera Condemnation


Yesterday’s Thought Of The Day: Don’t do anything in public that you wouldn’t want broadcasted on YouTube.

…Followed quickly by …and thank God I grew up in the era before cell phones and WIFI.

My most common thought growing up was, REMEMBER THIS. Remember this when you have kids. Remember this when you’re older so you remember what it’s like.

So, for the most part, when my kids are going through their varying degrees of difficulty, I reach back into the archives and try to recall how it felt to be 5, 8, 11… And if I was the same way, it helps me understand how best to parent them. At least, it’s one of the tools I use to try to raise my kids to be respectful, smart, caring, independent, self-sufficient human beings. (Yet to be seen, but so far, so good.)

I’m not and never have been perfect. Matter of fact, 90% of my motivation for being however well-behaved I was was the simple fact that we lived in a small town and whatever I did in public was reported back to my parents by the village. Didn’t matter where I was… it seemed like any time I had a single toe out of line, I heard about it within 24 hours. (…This is probably why I gravitate to the woods as much as I do. ALONE. The hills may have eyes, but they don’t report back to my folks.)

My world was small. I didn’t understand inflation, economics, war, espionage… For better or worse, I had a very protected childhood. (Please see the “Growing Up Onchuck” tab for confirmation.) As a result, I mostly remember feeling like every good or bad thing going on in my life was the literal rise and fall of my empire. A bad grade, a missed assignment, a comment or look from the guy that I liked… those small daily events, however atomic in the overall worldview, made or broke my day. That made my thoughts positively fierce; I had no sense of perspective.

If I’d had the ability to broadcast these thoughts through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… Ugh. I’d have either been blocked, sued, or offered a publishing deal. Kids can be mean. All kids do and say (and wear) things that they regret. I think back to my most embarrassing moments and I’m glad they’re grainy with age and probably not historically accurate any longer. Imagine those same moments broadcast for the world in 4K. (Or… what’s better resolution than 4K? Do they have that yet? And while we’re at it, I thought we all agreed to boycott whatever came after Blu-ray!)

I’m grateful that I never had the opportunity to humiliate myself for the whole world to see on repeat and set to funny music; and may I never be granted that opportunity. And should that video of my first grade school play somehow come to light, at least the bunny outfits and the resolution make it hard to tell that it’s really me.




Christmas Spirit


Christmas like a Mother. MY Mother.Read more.





Where You Should Be


Early or running late, I'm right where I should be. Read more.




LIFE ISN'T FAIR


I don't have all the answers. But I have pondered the same questions my ten-year-old is now asking me. I have a better view sitting on top of my 41 years than he does sitting on his 10. So I see things differently. Life ISN'T fair, but it's still pretty great.Read more.





B&W


Caution: This story contains mature concepts that may be unsuitable for younger viewers. Read more.




Toothpicks


While in college, I heard that after every meal you should brush your teeth. If you can’t do that, you should chew gum. And if you couldn’t do that, you should use a toothpick.

I was recently informed that using a toothpick in public is rude. Huh! News to me! Naturally, I tried to come up with the number of times I could have offended someone and realized I usually grab them on the way out of a restaurant or after dinner in my own home. So hopefully I’m not on anyone’s list of rude and insensitive people.

I understand that we all take in information differently. Some, like my kids, require a distraction-free zone, constant eye contact, and repetition all while obtrusively in their personal space. I tend to retain conversations better when I’m almost distracted. Squeezing a stress ball, taking notes, doing the dishes, folding laundry, utilizing a toothpick…

Then there’s the fact that my “condition” is a genetic flaw. For as long as I can remember, my dad and his brothers have always reached for a toothpick after a meal. When we’d have family over for dinner, the toothpicks were passed around like after dinner mints. I distinctly recall the Onchuck Boys all leaned back in their chairs, legs crossed, one arm across their chest, the other wielding their toothpicks as they discussed their plans for local land domination. Their sons, too. And, well, me. It was this ritual that spoke to a great meal, good company, and satisfying conversation. It was these after dinner dialogs that clarified the day’s events, spurred on tomorrow’s plans, and encouraged good oral hygiene.

It’s not like we deliberately spoke with a toothpick in our mouths. We took them out to speak; it actually helped to have to do that first because it gave you more time to evaluate what you were going to say. It also landed an air of sophistication to the conversation… Like a judge’s gavel banging on the podium, it called attention to the speaker. One is clearly busy using a toothpick mulling over some facts of life or what was just said. When one pauses to take out the toothpick after proper contemplation to speak, all those around should wait. And listen. And learn.

The toothpick: a tool of good oral hygiene, yes. An after-dinner family ritual, in my family at least. An instrument of more thoughtful conversation, sure. But if you’re perceived as being Rude while utilizing a toothpick, you’re doing something wrong.




My Theory on Bad Things


Caution: This story contains mature concepts that may be unsuitable for younger viewers. Read more.




Hoarder?


At work I’m not IT, Tech Support, or a Network Technician. I understand a bit about how computers function and interact with printers, network, and I’m not afraid to replace parts. With budget cutbacks, these qualities have made me popular and probably the most common phrase shared between coworkers at the office next to, “What now?” is “Ask Trish.”

My new coworker Darby asked me for an adapter to make her computer function with her dual monitors. I opened and shut the most likely file cabinet drawer. Opened and closed the second-most likely drawer in another file cabinet. The drawer above that was only keyboards. The fourth drawer was a hit: blue 15-pin female to HDMI. At which point, I turned around and saw the look of horror on her face.

“Hoard much?”

She’s a millennial-deprecating millennial, and while I like her, she’s younger than me and didn’t grow up where or how I grew up.

“Ever been saved by something you picked up in the ditch?” I countered.

“No.”

“Well, then. Until you have, don’t ask me to get rid of things that may help to keep you functioning in the future.”

Back when my summer job entailed the smallest of the Farmall fleet, a trailer, and a nice riding lawnmower, I toured the country between jobs at a whopping 5 miles an hour. I always said I could speed-walk faster than that tractor could take me, but I needed the mower to do my job. But it afforded me a luxury I didn’t know was a luxury at the time.

Traveling a country road that slow, I had plenty of time to study the ripeness of the tiny ditch-side strawberries, locate and identify all the roadkill by smell then sight, and discover trash and treasures that wound up in the ditch. Most of the time the trash was beer cans and hubcaps. But sometimes I found whole bungee cords, complete load-binders, and tools- like wrenches and screwdrivers. Since I hadn’t quite learned the value in packing a small tool set with such accessories as bungee cords and load-binders, these were incredibly useful when the trailer came off the hitch that one time. (Thank goodness for the chains!) And when that part on the tractor broke and I needed to strap it down where it belonged so I could get to my next location....Also, when the weld broke that held the tongue to the trailer. And a screwdriver will work in a pinch for a trailer pin.

My Aunt Kathi had a saying taped to their fridge: “Use it up, wear it out, make do or DO WITHOUT!” Amen.

So, yeah. I keep things that may still have use. Sometimes I don’t know for a year or two. Darby, you will be pleased to hear I threw away all of those 3.5” floppy disks. Last month. And recycled those 12” IBM monitors.