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  • 11/21/2013

    Got out of Peoria around 9:30 am and arrived at Charlotte's farm in Monroe about 2 pm. Olivia and Robbie, Charlotte's rescue dog, immediately began forging their relationship. Robbie is a terrier mix of unknown ancestry, but definitely some Whippet, Jack Russell, and a dash of Miniature Doberman thrown in there. He's about twice the size of Olivia, but apparently had never been around an older, more aggressive animal. An Aggressive Shih Tzu? Allow me to explain.

    Olivia's idea of a good time is to jump on my bed and attack my hand. We sort of play wrestle, me trying to avoid being captured and her leaping and jumping about to avoid my hand from getting under her. She growls and occasionally barks and her tail is wagging a mile a minute. When I reach under her from above and snuggle her to my chest, she knows the game is over and it's time for pets and loving. This is how Olivia plays.

    Anyway, Charlotte, Sandy and I are sitting at the kitchen table eating some homemade potato soup Charlotte cooked up for our arrival, with a bit of Orange Tapioca for dessert. We stopped by the store on the way for coffee beans, since Charlotte is a tea drinker. By the time we were done, so was the pot of dark Italian roast. I finished bringing our bags into the house and settled in at the table with a cup of rich, dark delicious comfort.

    There is a certain peace here in the country, a peace with a continuity of 30 years of memories combined with the changeless landscape of the Iowa countryside.

    Charlotte is a wonderful and inviting hostess. Her temperament has been forged by many years of unexpected tragedy, yet through it all she remains calm, serene and loving. She has been divorced once, long before I met her, and widowed twice, once when LaVerne her second husband, crashed his small plane in a sudden and unexpected fog, and the second time when Dave, her third husband, died of leukemia. Dave knew he would be going, and while he went through chemotherapy and had several remissions, he finally came to grips with reality and went out with as much dignity and grace as any of us can hope for. On his last birthday, a special request was sent to friends and family, some he had not seen in years, and the field beyond the barn was the site of a wonderful and hearty farewell. It was there he asked me to sing at his memorial service. Dave passed away in 2002, and there is a memorial bench on the concrete pad next to the driveway to the farm. I still remember the songs he asked me to play, as well as the great conversations we would have. I miss him still, and consider him the older brother I never had.

    All the while the dogs are getting to know one another, with Olivia giving out an occasional growl and Robbie running about the house trying to get her to chase him. Every time he does, Olivia just sits on the floor and looks at him with a very unimpressed stare. When I ask Olivia if she needs to go out, she prances toward the door and I follow her out while she discovers another pleasure of farm living: Farm Cats.

    Olivia knows what cats are of course, living as she does with Kanga and Sabrina. But this is an entirely different perspective from what she is used to. Charlotte has between 20 and 30 cats on her property at any one time. They live in a shed and have access through a hole in the floor to the fields where they hunt mice. Once a day she feeds them dry cat food, and there are several heated water dishes outside so they have access to water. But these are not pets. And they don't respond like pets. And Olivia finds this fascinating.

    The cats are used to Robbie, whose only contact with the cats is to occasionally run over one while he is sprinting about the yard. Olivia is an unknown, and the older cats are careful to keep their distance, while the kittens simply hunker down when she comes up to smell them. She makes the rounds, squatting and marking her scent in various places, then rushing toward the new felines to see if they want to play. A tom makes the mistake of arching his back and hissing at her, expecting her to run away. Olivia, used to this reaction from Sabrina, plants her feet firmly and growls at the tom, then steps forward and barks. The tom rushes off and I call Olivia to me before she decides to chase him. Robbie, who has stopped from his escapades to watch, simply follows Olivia in. As she prances toward me, her tail is high in the air and her bearing is unmistakeably one of a conqueror.

    I return to the comfort of the house and excuse myself to do my ab exercises. Later we decide to play the Wii and Sandy and I lose terribly to Charlotte in Bowling, while I succeed in whipping the ladies at Frisbee Golf. Another cup of coffee and I settle in to read my Bible while the sisters chat away.

    Bundled up against the cold, I walk out into the night to behold my favorite view; the night sky. Away from the lights of the city, the blanket of stars reminds me of many nights at sea when the sky was clear and the stars were as abundant as sands on a shore. There is a peaceful grace in the awesome wonder of the stars, and I stand there transfixed by it's majesty.

    Within the hour, snow is falling. Slow and steady, flakes no bigger than the head of a pin drifting elegantly down in the dark night. In the morning, the earth will be covered with a blanket of billowing, powdery snow.

    To Be Continued

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