05062012 A Relatively Easy Birthday Surprise

If it is the thought that counts, for a birthday, I have a sure-fire way to let someone know that you are thinking about them – and willing to put in a little time to prove it.

Go to any store selling a variety of birthday cards. You can buy expensive one-of-a-kind cards or 2-for-a-dollar. Buy a dozen. Make sure that you get some for someone’s grandson, father, uncle, daughter, cousin, co-worker, etc. The bigger the variety and the more strange the assortment, the more fun you can have.

If you want to make it more interesting, sign each type of card as if you are another person and make up details to go with each fake identity with which you sign the card. Mail 1 or 2 per day starting about 10 days before your person has or her birthday.

As your birthday victim begins to receive the cards, it is likely that it will make them wonder who might be surprising them. As the cards pile up, I guarantee that their amusement will also magnify. By the time their birthday arrives, they will have a nice stack of something to laugh about. It is likely that the person receiving the cards will tell everyone about what you’ve done. You can spend either a few dollars or a lot of dollars to make someone know you are wishing them a great birthday. (Let all the other friends buy your birthday person a lizard feeder or keychain with your name on it.)

It’s good for the economy and the postal service, too.

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11102013 What’s In a Name Part 2,345

 “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings (Music Video)

I re-wrote this, as I had several anecdotes spread around my blog posts. None of them were well-written and somehow I’m still not conveying the fun part of my name change. 

Changing my name was one of the best, most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Don’t let the overtone of grouchiness overshadow that fact. It’s like when you get a new car and everyone wants to see it – except that one mean friend or family member who wants to comment how shoddily it was built. 

When I changed my name, I wrote a letter to most of my family, letting them know, giving an explanation. I didn’t have too, of course, but I did. If they got a letter, it meant that I considered them family and close. Not being as dumb as expected, I knew that many people would decide I was crazy, resist, or ignore me. I was a weird person in general. There’s no use attempting to sugarcoat it. Normal wasn’t a word my friends would use to describe me. For most family members, my decision to change my name shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’d mentioned the desire many times during my early life.

My dad named me BobbyDean – one word. He didn’t want it split and he didn’t ask for the “Jr.” to be added to my name, as I was the second son. The hospital clerk made the changes. I was one of 2,347 “Bob / Robert” people in the family. He might as well have been following Johnny Cash’s lead and named me “Sue,” for all the confusion it caused.

Flash forward a few years. My dad died suddenly. Despite his good-natured ribbing about it, dad was okay with me changing my name. It amused him for several reasons. A couple of the family revisionists later foolishly tried to insist that he didn’t like me changing my name. It isn’t true, of course, and each time I hear anyone repeat the idiotic claim I pray for the ability to cause another person’s hair to spontaneously morph into a wombat. Dad laughed about me changing my name and told me at least twice he understood completely. About a month before his death when I visited him, he told me it wasn’t a great idea to give me his name, anyway, because no one used the right name and that there were too many Bobs, Bobbys, and Roberts in the family.

When the family put together the obituary together, they ignored me and my wishes… and those of my dad. They listed me as a “Jr,” with my birth name, both in the obituary and in the funeral arrangements. Instead of my legal name, the one on my driver’s license and birth certificate.

At the funeral, each person opened their handouts and read about my dad, a general description of his life, a list of family, etc. Except in my case, the people compiling the information decided that I wasn’t allowed to use my legal name, the one on my birth certificate, driver’s license and everything else in my life. They decided to ignore my wishes and put my birth name on everything, the name I had categorically rejected. They listed me with my birth name and “Jr.” on it, even though a few years had elapsed and they well knew it wasn’t a passing fad – and my dad’s opinion about it. So, at my own dad’s funeral, I was forced to work to ignore that my own family had given me a stupendous “F – U” middle finger with the obituary information, printed everywhere and in the newspapers.

When I returned home, my friends and co-workers were pissed at my “well-meaning family.” They couldn’t understand why family would be so demeaning to me at such a time in life. I couldn’t explain it to them, either. It was just stupid.

(Sometimes, people will say dumb things like “But you didn’t help pay for the funeral.” To which I reply: “Everyone knew dad wanted to be cremated. Are we really going to go down that road?” Does helping pay or not pay for a funeral give carte blanche to those who are paying to do and so whatever they want to?)

It was weird having people ask my name and me telling them “X” and that I was “Bobby’s son,” knowing that they wouldn’t know what the heck I was talking about if they used the obituary information.

Luckily, I was able to shrug it off at the time as a classic demonstration of stupidity, perhaps even misguided family honor. In the case of one family member, I still consider it malice, based on her words about it- and her ongoing insistence on being sanctimonious about it. I know all of us had just lost a family member and everyone gets a pass to a degree about what they say and do around such sadness and grief. But in my case, it was deliberate, not something brought about by cloudy grief. My dad died several years after I changed my name – it wasn’t the month before or even a year before.

That a couple of my family members decided to pull such a stunt reminded me of how petty and sanctimonious people will be. And to try to not let it poison my opinion of unrelated things in my life.

I’ve written before about some of my trouble with people being spiteful about my name change. The key component is whether a person is trying to acknowledge that he/she knows my name is X. I’m not belligerent about someone who forgets or who switches back and forth between “X” and my birth name. (Despite what some of the revisionists still try to claim.) I will let infrequent or occasional mentions of my old name go by without even a raised eyebrow. I’m not referring to people who knew me when I was very young and who weren’t around me afterwards.

I apologize for sounding grouchy. But imagine if random people in your life decided to call you “DonkeyBreath.” Let’s say it happened because you once had bad breath. But you fixed your teeth and fixed the problem. Fast forward 20+ years to a time where certain people still call you DonkeyBreath. Whether it is by name in an obituary, in church, on the phone, or shouted across the parking lot. Try as you might, as politely as you ask, people still call you DonkeyBreath. They do this even though they know that you still find it offensive. What kind of people are these exactly?

But I will give you a real example which demonstrates how spiteful some people can be. At church near my hometown, a family member was telling a story that involved me. She called me by my name, of course: X. My Aunt Ezra (name changed to protect the guilty) turned toward her and spitefully said “You mean Bobby!” The first family member turned toward and said “No, I mean X !” The key component of this story is that Aunt Ezra not only tried to intimidate someone in public at church, but also was showing deliberate spite about my name, decades after I changed it. Is this what you would describe as good behavior? It’s fine, though, as I practiced some spite of my own. During more than once church discussion, I’ve used my aunt’s name to talk about behavior I don’t like.For words such as “pious, sanctimonious, or hypocritical.”

(No one who knows me, works with me, or interacts with me, etc calls me anything except X.)
My birth name sounds stupid to me and to my wife. I don’t turn when people yell “Bobby” behind me. It’s alien to me. People who are in my daily life just don’t “get” why people would be stupid enough to persist in using the wrong name. To everyone except the offenders, it is immediately obvious that a factor of disrespect and rudeness is motivating people who try to call me by my birth name. When my wife and I get around family members who don’t even try to call me by name, it gets tedious and annoying very quickly. If I am not noticing it, my wife does. I appreciate her trying to ignore it and I also appreciate it when she finally has had enough and starts questioning people. It annoys her, too. We do the right thing – we never go on the attack about it. However, when enough abuse about it has piled up, we start politely pointing out the error with the name. If I choose to start disengaging and walking away, no one is going to tell me that I’m the one being rude. I’ve asked, asked again, made videos, asked again, explained and asked again. Many outsiders hear it or hear of people doing this to me and ask why I tolerate it, especially why I continue to put up with it for so many years.

“It’s not a big deal” or “You take it too personally” are both weak and rude ways to say that my feelings and right to be who I am doesn’t matter. “You shouldn’t be rude like that” is another way of attempting to mitigate other people’s rudeness at choosing to ignore my wishes. “Don’t be an ass about it” is a another idiotic method to insist that I don’t have a right to be irritated in the face of decades of this abuse. And believe me, it is abuse. The choice is yours whether to honor my right to be who I am or to engage in interpersonal warfare by convincing yourself that you are being anything less than an ass by calling me by a name that hasn’t been my name for over 2 decades. Well over 2 decades. Whatever claim my birth name once had over my life is surely long dead. Now that both my mom and dad are gone, it is more comical and depressing than ever that there are doofuses who still deliberately use the wrong name.

Several years ago, I made a video with captioned pictures, set to “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings. I sent it to several people and posted a copyright-free version to Facebook. Online, people laughed and laughed, all giving me praise for my lighthearted effort to get my point across. Many were incredulous that family members were still being so mean and thoughtless so many years after the name change. Several people went so far as to message or tell me directly that if they were in my shoes, they would disown anyone who continued to be mean to me about it, ESPECIALLY after I had put hours of work into the dvd explaining my point of view. They could tell that for many of my family members, I had asked them nicely up to 100 times. That’s beyond what anyone would claim to be reasonable. I had family screaming at me, sending angry emails or causing public rifts about it. I guess I don’t need to keep mentioning that – any family that would go so far as to publish the wrong name in another person’s obituary needs to seriously examine what kind of people they are. On those frequent occasions when my mom would get both angry and drunk, she would lash out about my name.

My wife, her sister and her mom all knew me by my birth name when I was younger. None of them had any real problem treating me like I deserved to be respected in regards to my name. Neither did my childhood best friend, several of my close cousins, all my co-workers, etc. Several of these people knew me by my birth name and had just as much claim toward difficulty toward adapting to my new name as anyone else did. But it didn’t occur to any of them to be an ass and try to be mean about it. That tells me that either some of my family members aren’t good people or just didn’t really care about me as an individual.

You have to try to respect me for who I am, even if your are convinced I’m a fool. If you want to interact with me, I meant. If you don’t like me or my name, then don’t feel obligated to pretend to – as none of us have enough time left in life to waste it on people who don’t really matter to us. Move along and have a good, rich life without me in it. You can’t claim to like or love me and still stupidly insist on calling me by the wrong name.

I only write about it because even though I now have lived over 1/2 my life as X, there are still “loved ones” in my family who still call me “Bobby.” They are getting to be rarer now, and not just due to time and age catching up. Rather, it gets old trying to defend such an indefensible attitude. They know they were wrong but can’t lash out much about it now, given that other family members will call them out on it. That wasn’t always the case.

People get a pass for a while, a year. Even 10 years. But 25? I don’t think so.

Facebook Never Shows You Eating a Cold Hotdog Over the Sink

If you are going to write about the “fancy pants” places you visit, I expect to be as frequently notified when you are eating day-old macaroni and cheese over the sink. Or that fact that you sometimes find a plain bologna and cheese sandwich to be as good as any steak. Or that you sometimes just want the plain version of the fancy cuisine you are paying for.

Studies continue to demonstrate that FBers use the service to “edit” their lives. We all know that to be common sense. However, please don’t perpetuate the mostly untrue idea that you are out experiencing a better assortment of good eating than most of your friends.

I want to know how much time you spend eating the equivalent of cold hot dogs straight out of the package.  : )

07222014Learning To Sew

One of the few things that I hold to be irrevocably sentimental to me is my grandma Nellie’s old plastic sewing box. (I’ve written before about a broken, rusty nail associated with her husband, my grandpa Willie, being the other highly sentimental thing I own.)

 (This is a picture from around the time my grandma Nellie first taught me to sew.)

I don’t remember exactly how I ended up with grandma’s old sewing box. I remember Grandma joking that I could have it when she died, but that was sometime around 1975, a 1/4 of a century before she died. (She also promised me a nifty little pocketknife.) Someone probably remembered the hours and hours that I spent sewing with grandma and the stories I used to tell about it. After grandma died, I had forgotten about it. Whoever that someone was passed along grandma’s sewing box to my mom and then my mom gave it to me. I used to remember where grandma originally acquired the sewing box, because I asked her. But so many years have elapsed and now no one remembers the story.

When I was around 4, I would sit at grandma’s feet and either watch tv, read the TV Guide, or doodle. Many times, grandma would sit in her chair and sew. She would have been around 60 then, which seemed very, very old to me back in those days. Now that I’m not more than a decade from encroaching the same milestone, it seems downright young. Grandma had trouble sometimes threading the needle, both due to her eyesight and shaking. I don’t know why she finally relented and asked me to thread a needle for her, but she did. I pricked my finger very badly a couple of times but finally managed to work the thread into the needle. Grandma could be very cautious, but she wasn’t one to worry needlessly about me hurting myself with a needle. She was the type who knew that while she didn’t want me to hurt myself, that learning to thread a needle basically required getting stuck once or twice.

Over the next few years, she taught me to sew a hem and do a few basic stitches. She also taught me to be able to sit still and concentrate on something constructive. I could sit and stitch for an hour without thinking about being bored or whether the thread was straight. I simply enjoyed it for what it was. It didn’t occur to me later that sewing was something that wasn’t supposed to be done by boys. Even with sewing, my grandpa didn’t make fun of me for it. He saw that I enjoyed it and knew that any boy learning to sew was learning something useful that would last for the rest of his life.

I’ll never forget being in Home Economics class in junior high. I was with Jason, already a sports jock. We were tasked with sewing the outline of a turtle. Without thinking, I threaded the needle and had sewn almost half the outline before realizing that other people were just getting their threads through the eye of their needles. For once, instead of being the clumsy doofus, I was the one with a skill, even if it was something as mundane as sewing. It surprised me that other people had trouble with it.

Through my life I’ve sewn pillows, shirts, curtains and even headbands. None of them were done with expertise, but all were done with a sense of purpose and fun. I can’t sew for very long without thinking of being at my grandma’s feet, sewing.

Selective Wall

Another great term I recently learned is that of the “selective wall.” I’ve seen other descriptions for the same thing – but they don’t have the same concise clarity as this phrase.

The Selective Wall is mainly used toward belief systems and religious ideas. It means that a religious group might feel that they should receive special consideration and that this would only be fair to them – while the same treatment for others is a insult to their right to believe the way they wish.

The example I read and remember is one involving information being passed out at schools. Religious crazies demanded the ability to hand out literature – and received it. Then, other groups, both religious and atheist, began to take advantage of the same privilege. The religious crazies then started screaming that it was unfair for others to be able to do it it, as it was unfair to them.

Great reasoning, isn’t it?

Courtier’s Reply

Somewhere recently on one of the sites I love to read I learned about the Courtier’s Reply. As much as I read, I don’t remember this from anywhere. It was one of those “a-ha!” moments, as it is an effective way to draw attention to someone trying to make a bad argument.

Basically, the Courtier’s Reply is a “silencing argument,” especially when used in religious discussions.  It attempts to state that you aren’t allowed to comment or criticize an idea or religion unless you have studied it down to the most trivial level.

The article I read pointed out that in cases of religion, the Courtier’s Reply is all the more relevant once you point out that members of a particular religions are NOT required or even expected to have a requisite level of knowledge, much less exposure, to the same information that you are expected to have.

It’s great shorthand to remind myself when I hear this type of reasoning in arguments.

When You’re Gone

Recently, I read another fascinating essay online about how to deal with the organizational aspects of one’s passing, death, or demise.

The author’s contention is that we look at our mortality from the wrong perspective. He pointed out that if you are thinking at all about your mortality, you are doing more than many people. His thesis is that you should practice empathy when contemplating the organization of life after you are no longer a part of it.

Instead of focusing your energy in a traditional sense, his idea is to remind us that we should focus on the person we love the most in this world when making plans, organizing and documenting. We should make our plans with our most loved person in mind, under the assumption that this person will have to personally deal with our passing. Our cherished loved one will have to either bear the burden of our lack of planning, or be at ease because we planned our death in such a way as to make it incredibly easy for them.

It sounds like great practice at imagining our lives no longer being filled by us, as well as to refocus our energies on being less selfish in our attitudes about our passing.

A Note About Miley (Not What You’re Expecting) (From Sept 2013)

This post is somewhat about Miley and the Video Music Awards… It’s not a letter “to” her. I wouldn’t presume to think that she would care what 99.99% of us could possibly say and certainly not someone like me.

Miley wasn’t dancing or denigrating herself for people my age. She was doing it for people her age. They will remember her performance, whether good or bad. Condemning her for what she did will not earn your respect from the younger generation – it will only alienate them from any attempt you might make to get through to them. Your chance to reach those kids will be diminished. Those kids don’t notice the content of your words so much as the direction of your wagging finger. In this case, your wagging finger is pointing toward someone entertaining and different, even if we label her as ‘vulgar.’ I guess I’m trying to say that you should teach by being positive about your goals, morals and lifestory, not by being preachy about Miley or even Elvis gyrating around on television. You cannot compete, much less win, a battle against the world’s craziness.
I mention Elvis because Miley isn’t the first and not even the worst in a long line of shock artists.

In our new, fast-paced connected world, none us has much opportunity to filter the world. It comes, unbidden, whether we are prepared or interested in it at all. Our personal opinions and even our greater surrounding societal opinions don’t slow the incoming stimulation. It is 24/7, intense, and takes no prisoners in regards to anyone’s particular personal tastes. It’s a fool’s errand to attempt to blackout much of the illicit or undesirable music, television or behavior in the world.

(I would be much more concerned as a parent about the constant warfare that our county and its allies find justifiable than I would about celebrities acting out for fame and money. My next concern would be explaining to my kids why so many homeless people live in the streets or why so many go to be hungry – in this county of waste and excess. Or why insurance isn’t available to every living person. Or why any adult citizen can’t attend a public university at no cost other than through taxation. We are certainly not living the example we claim we are following. I think my kids would see the hypocrisy more clearly than they would hear my words. My focus would be on the kids I could help shape – not on quixotic efforts to convince anyone in Miley’s shoes to behave differently.)

Shock value has always been an effective method to gather attention. Whether you think this is a good thing or not doesn’t affect the efficiency of being outrageous. Whether Elvis gyrates his hips or Miley grinds her gears for the world, it is ultimately Miley’s decision as an adult to do it. Let’s trust that she has someone in her life who will love her and help guide or even rescue her later if her life spirals out of control. Don’t worry about her legacy. That is hers to shape, independent of whether you or I like any aspect of it. Whether you think it is a good thing or not for Elvis or Miley, the reality is that, in part, you might be trying to impose your standards on other people. It is up to you to figure out a way to be a better and more desirable center of attention than people like Miley.
(Quiet dignity almost always loses out to outlandish excitement as far as the younger crowd is concerned.)

As for the Video Music Awards, how in the world could you expect to watch it and not be shocked? It’s MTV. Appearing at the VMAs has always been an opportunity to dial up the shock value and garner attention. It would never occur to me to let children watch it if I were concerned about their exposure to alleged illicit behavior. I don’t understand how anyone exposed to the entertainment industry could expect anything other than something similar to what Miley did. Just who are these crazy parents who would be so oblivious as to allow it to be watched by their so-called “young children?” Any adult claiming that their young kids shouldn’t watch it should be using their control technology on their cable boxes to block the channels entirely. Isn’t that reasonable? Having MTV available on your televisions at home would be the greater sin, not that the content is undesirable for your kids. As the adult with the issue about exposing your kids to it, it is your job to assume that the world is simply stuffed with things you don’t like – and act accordingly.

(And please note, too, that in order to have watched the performance, you would have to be relatively more wealthy than most of the world to have had access to electricity, cable, extra-tier channels, and so on. In a world where many of these things aren’t even available to many, having raised eyebrows over a young woman showing her body on television is almost a hypocritical perversion itself.)

Although it won’t happen this way, Miley has so much attention on her right now that she could almost preach any truth she wants to – and get serious attention from the very people who many think were being subjected to smut by watching Miley’s VMA performance. For those who had nothing but negative criticism for her performance, I would argue that your entire collective life’s words, written or oral, cannot begin to approach the level of POTENTIAL reach that Miley now has. I know we would all like to think that our efforts will bear better fruits – but it isn’t true. Because she received so much attention (however you characterize it), Miley could come out tomorrow and passionately get attention for any idea or cause that she values. Yes, it’s true that her popularity will undoubtedly fade. But if she is smart, she can now ride a wave of fame and money to any destination she chooses. It’s also true that her destination will probably not be one most people would find meaningful – but it might. She might finish her entertainment career with enough money and clout to eradicate homophobia, or to convince the world to stop fighting so many stupid wars. Or, she might convince them to listen to music and tap their toes a little more often.

Between concerning myself with someone like Miley dancing half-naked onstage or thinking about the consequences of explaining justifiable war to the next generation, I would focus on fixing the need for war and greater societal problems. As with warfare, there will always be the “next shock” to come along and take the shock value to even crazier heights.
Miley makes a point. She’s well aware that what she’s doing is controversial and many people hate it. In the scheme of things, though, which of the issues I’ve mentioned rates more attention? But which will you be talking about around the water cooler or in church?


09282013 My Mother Never Had a Birth Certificate

My mother never had a birth certificate. In this age, it sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

She was born in September 1946, in Widener, Arkansas. Although I’m not sure which crops were being picked or harvested, I’m certain that my grandparents were there working the fields of Eastern Arkansas in some capacity. My Aunt Marylou was somewhere around 15 at the time and she still remembers it. (Coincidentally, Marylou had to request a delayed birth certificate many decades after her birth, as she didn’t have one, either.) The family was very poor so anything other than an at-home birth would have been almost impossible for my mom.

Mom is probably one of the last people who will ever be able to get through life in the U.S. without a birth certificate. The rules are so strict now and modern living so complicated that the government has no interest in allowing people to go without distinctive identification. Somehow, mom skated through collecting social security and other bureaucratic complications.

A few years ago, I helped mom do the paperwork for a delayed birth certificate. She got too frustrated, though, and gave up without trying very hard. Part of the reason in her mind was probably that she wasn’t going to live long enough to need it, anyway. She had just started a new job as a janitor at Brinkley public schools and retirement was just a fantasy to her at that point.

I hate to think that mom worked the last 5 or 6 years at such a physical job. She didn’t have to, of course. It would have been comforting to know that she had even a year after working until retirement to enjoy her life, even if it were limited to reading and visiting people. Many of her choices limited her options and that somehow doesn’t mitigate my wish much.

This is a picture of my mom, her brother Harold, my grandma Nellie and my grandpa Cook, in December,1956.

07242014 A Rusty Nail Is All I Need

As strange as it sounds, one of my most prized possessions is most of a rusty nail. Seriously.

Years ago, before it was torn down, I visited the last house my maternal grandparents lived in together. I went on the property at great risk, as it looked like it had been abandoned and infiltrated by wasps, weeds, and rain through the old metal roof. Before moving to the this house, they lived to the south, still off highway 39, on the opposite side, near White Cemetery. They had an outhouse at the previous house.

I have an incredible number of memories about that old “house on the hill” as I call it. It was in Rich, Arkansas; not much of a place, really, even its heyday if it ever truly had one.  It was on Highway 39, on the west side of the road. Cook Road was slightly to the south of the old house. Most of the time cotton seemed to be the crop surrounding it in every direction.

I remember when grandma and grandpa moved in. One of the first things done was to hang a porch swing on the south end of the full-length wooden slatboard porch. In that day, one didn’t use complicated screwhooks – a long nail would be hammered in and bent around to hold the chain linked through it. This isn’t the safest of ways to do it, not by today’s standards. Yet I can’t remember seeing one fall when I was young. (The second thing done was to build Grandma Nellie a storm shelter. She was deathly afraid of any weather, having survived the stories of the tornado in 1909 that leveled the town of Brinkley.)

Either Uncle Raymond or Uncle Harold picked me up and held me up high toward the roof of the porch. I held the nail more or less straight while grandpa hammered it in. Once we nailed the two nails, we hung the swing and sat in it, enjoying the simple fun and relaxation of it. I spent a lot of hours on that swing with grandpa. On some level, it is partially to blame for my extreme views on simplicity and comfort. Adding 44 uses and extras to things mostly ruins them.

To this day, when it rains sometimes I can smell the dirt and cotton blowing across the porch toward grandpa and I, sitting on the porch. If weather was coming, we’d usually be listening to grandma cajole grandpa into coming into the house or getting to the storm shelter.

The only thing I was really interested in salvaging that day in the 90s was the swing  nail closest to the house, the one I remember “helping” put in.

Sidenote: one branch of the Pledger family was the last to live in the house. Their stuff, including pictures, were scattered all around inside. I learned later in life that my grandpa Willie had an illegitimate child with one of the Pledgers. At the time, he was working for the original Pledger patriarch at a sawmill in Clarendon. My mom didn’t know anything about her half-sister until after the half-sister died. The story is that she and mom looked a lot alike. Although I have delved fairly extensively into the Pledgers, I have avoided any direct linking to their trees or stories.

This picture is of the old house on the hill. (The aforementioned porch swing is on the left in the background.) Grandpa Willie is seated center. They are sitting on the porch steps, a series of piled railroad logs. I nailed at least 1,000 nails into those logs. These logs were one of the many reasons that I still love the smell of creosote of all kinds.

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