I respect religious faiths even though I belong to none. I was, however, raised as a Catholic and discovered as a child that respecting the religious faiths of others was not something that came easily to many. I had one person in school pass me an anti-Catholic Jack Chick comic and someone on m block who lived a few doors down from me told me I was going to go to hell because I was a Catholic (and that, naturally, being a Catholic was somehow not being a Christian). Sometimes people have trouble even conceiving of people with different ideas about faith. The first atheist I met, a Swiss foreign exchange student in my high school, once brought up in a history class that he was an atheist. “You don’t believe in God?” one female student asked in a shrill voice (it helps to remember this was in Texas). “No,” said the Swiss student. “But,” she cried, “What about the devil???” She couldn’t quite wrap her head around the notion that he didn’t believe in any of the whole ball of beeswax.
A new employee showed up at a place I once worked and a veteran employee quickly came to the conclusion that she did not like the new employee. She began a whispering campaign about the new hire, attributing certain negative job-related qualities to him, and before you knew it, other people were repeating those aspersions when the new hire’s name came up—even though they had never actually seen any of those things themselves. The new employee was suddenly the victim of widespread preconceived notions, without even knowing what was going on, much less having an opportunity to do anything about it. He struggled his entire time at his job under the burden of those undeserved, preconceived notions. What struck me about this incident was how quickly others accepted the aspersions against him, with no proof or evidence at all. They were simply sheep following the lead of someone more dominant. It was a depressing but useful life lesson.
I was born in Pennsylvania but moved to west Texas when I was four years old. I remember nothing of it except a hazy memory of the plane ride with my mother and my sister (my father drove). I did not move again until I went to college at Trinity University in San Antonio, to live in a dorm. During the summer the university sent me a letter with information about my dorm and my assigned roommate. My roommate had one of those ambiguous names that could be male or female, which is relevant, because the dorm assigned to me was the Camille Lightner Women’s Honor Dormitory. Together, these two pieces of information had me a little nervous. However, it turns out the dorm had recently been converted to co-ed and they merely hadn’t gotten around to changing its formal name.
In 1988, I made the biggest move of my life, to Columbus, Ohio, to go to grad school. With the exception of my books and my wargames, every possession I owned was crammed into my 1985 Chevy Chevette. It was so loaded down I almost had to pull it the 1,550 miles to Ohio. The only way I could afford to move my (thousands of) books and wargames was to ship it via freight as scrap paper—meaning if something went wrong, I could kiss them goodbye. That was a nervous waiting period until they arrived at the small apartment I had rented, which would turn out to be miserable and rat-infested. I stayed there two years, then moved into a townhouse apartment in a nicer part of town. I would live in that place for 14 years until I finally bought a house and made my last move, to date. By then I could afford to pay people to move all the stuff—and not as scrap paper, either, so it was in many ways the least painless. After I moved in, I discovered the air conditioning was broken and I had to pay nearly a thousand dollars on my first day in the house to fix it. Even after the house cooled down, I had a hard time sleeping that night, in a strange place that I had just bought, consumed by second-guessing my own decision in the largest purchase of my life to date. But it generally turned out okay. I’m still living in it, 12 years later—though still not fully unpacked.
We don’t always take the time to appreciate the little things in life. For example, at the moment of this writing, I have a gnat/fruit fly infestation in my house. I don’t know where the little buggers are reproducing yet and I am probably going to have to tear my house upside down. I normally don’t take the time to appreciate a gnat-free house. I do appreciate the relaxation of going on my little excursions across Ohio, but often not until I am actually on the road. What I dread, to be honest, is having to wake up so early. I am such a night person, that getting up early enough to catch even the trailing rays of the morning’s “golden hour” is certainly a chore. One saving grace of excursions in the winter is that the sun, at least, rises a bit later. I need those minutes.
I saw a UFO once. I mean that literally, as in an “unidentified flying object.” It was back when I was a kid and my family was getting up very early in the morning to go on some long trip. I went outside, to put something in the car or get something from my father’s truck, and somehow I noticed something extremely tiny and odd up in the sky—it is rather amazing I noticed it at all, so small and far away it was. It looked like the tiniest of circles hovering in the stratosphere. I went and got my dad, who came out and looked at it, and then went back inside and got his spotting scope—the closest thing we had to a telescope. Even through the spotting scope, we could make out very little, just a few appurtenances or gewgaws coming out of the thing. Eventually we decided that it had to be some sort of weather balloon, high up in the atmosphere. Sorry if you were expecting tentacles.
Ask two people about farming in America and you are likely to get two different answers. Or, somehow, even three. America’s farm economy is booming, but the family farm is in steep decline. Except when it is not. So here are some quick facts, or generalizations. First, the amount of American farmland has been relatively stable for many decades—it has had a steady but slow decline of acreage, largely due to development, which has been more than compensated for by increased production. There are around 2.2 million farms in the U.S., but there are more bus drivers than farmers—and farmers are aging, though there are signs that a new generation of farmers is emerging. Analysts often talk of “corporate” farmers and indeed a relatively small number of farmers account for the majority of farm production, but most farmers themselves are still family farmers, with many of the so-called “corporate” farms still being run by families that have incorporated for business purposes. The size of the average farm is about 440 acres or so, triple that of a century ago—and this is a good thing, as it illustrates (among other things) the disappearance of tiny sharecropped farms. In any case, 440 acres is still a pretty modest average.
In mid-July 2015, I had an opportunity to take a drive through southwest Ohio’s farm country at the height of the growing season and it was a pleasant journey indeed.
So a dozen or so years ago I bought my first house. I had lived in a series of apartments for 16 years and was sick and tired of not having enough room for my books (of course, back then I did not quite realize that I was on the hoarding spectrum and would accumulate books to fill any space). Plus, after a long period of financial travail, I had finally gotten out of a huge amount of debt, everything from credit card debt to student loan debt to tax debt, while my job situation seemed to have stabilized. It just seemed like the time to do it. It is hard to believe I have lived in this house 12 years; it really doesn’t seem like it. In fact, I never did fully unpack from the move. I guess it is that way with most people. But somewhere along the line my house became my home. This excursion, taken on a very cold and icy February day into the wilds of northeastern Ohio, has a lot of photographs of houses—and homes, if you take my meaning. It is a very building-intensive entry, but it’s worth the effort.