I Play the Accordion for Cows

A while back, I watched a YouTube video of a man playing his piano accordion on a vacant country road out West. I was interested because I, too, play the accordion. He sang a cowboy song. After the first few bars, cattle started emerging from the woods one by one, drawn by the music. After they’d come all the way to the fence that separated them from the accordionist, they stood respectfully in a semicircle, riveted by his song. Not a head moved. Not an ear twitched. When the accordionist finished, folded his instrument, and snapped it shut, the cows dispersed and moved back into the woods.

I thought, wow, I could do that. I recalled that when I drive to my morning A.A. meeting in Gainesville, I pass a field of cattle belonging to the University of Florida College of Agriculture. Maybe these cows would enjoy accordion music, too.

One morning, I put my instrumcowsent in the back seat of my car. After the A.A. meeting, I headed for U.F.’s cattle field. Parking on the curb adjacent to the cattle enclosure, I unloaded my accordion, strapped it on, and began to play. I sang, “Git along, little doggie” at the top of my lungs.

The cows slowly headed in my direction. When they’d come as close to the fence as they could, they stood quietly, listening to every note. Oh, joy.

Then a police cruiser pulled up on the curb behind me. I didn’t notice him at first. But when I was about to pack up and head home, I turned, and there he was, wearing his seamless and solemn police face. I said excitedly, “You can’t believe this, Officer. I saw on a YouTube video that cows love accordion music.” Looking at his face, he didn’t seem to share my excitement. In fact, he looked as though he was thinking about writing a ticket.

Then his features began to melt, the corners of his lips lifted, and dimples appeared in his cheeks. Finally, he laughed. I knew he was in. I said, “Too bad you missed the concert, Officer. I’m on my way home now.”

Pulling away from the curb, it occurred to me that someone probably called the police station to report a crazy old woman on Williston Road playing her accordion and singing to a field of cows. I also realized that the cruiser undoubtedly had a video recorder and the officer would be taking the evidence back to his buddies at the station who would get a good laugh out of it.

Me, too.


*   *   *

A Camel—The Perfect Pet

Opening the Gainesville Sun one Sunday morning, I glanced at the “Pets for Sale” section. Not that I need any more pets.

To my amazement, I find that someone is selling a female camel for $3200. Right here in Gainesville! How exciting!

Let’s see, I have an area about 50 by 20 feet in my side yard. A perfect place for a camel. I just have to buy a bunch of straw and a truckload of camel feed, and I’m in business. What do camels eat? Hell, I don’t know. I’ll find out from the person who’s selling the camel.r964423_10400496

Think of it, I can ride my camel all over Gainesville, to the wonder and amazement of all. I will be a celebrity. The $3200 is no problem. I’m making enough money in my freelance business. What better way to spend it than on a camel? (I have to admit, this notion might never have occurred to me after I quit drinking a year later.)


I call the camel owner. No answer. Drat.

An hour later, I call again. What’s the matter with her? Doesn’t she want to sell her stupid camel?

I’m so excited that I call my 40-year-old daughter to tell her about the camel. “You’ll never guess what, Julie!”

“What, Mom?”

“I’m going to buy a camel.”

“What did you say? A camel?”

 “Yeah, I found one in this morning’s paper, and I’m going to buy it and keep it in my side yard and ride it around Gainesville.”

Long pause.

“I hate to tell you, Mom, but you can’t do that.”

“And why not?”

“Don’t you know that camels’ feet are ruined on cement? They have to walk on soft ground, like sand in the desert.”

I am crestfallen. “Well, rats. I guess I can’t buy the camel then.”

“Probably not, Mom.”

Well, there goes one great idea out the window.

Tricky Daughter

A year later, the subject of the camel comes up in a phone conversation. We are both laughing at my folly. I say, “Good thing you knew that about camels’ feet, Julie, or I might actually have gone out and bought the thing.”

Julie smirks. “I just made that up, Mom. To talk you out of buying the camel.”

Caught Skinny-Dipping

For exercise, I swim in a small pool in my back yard. My privacy is protected by a six-foot wood fence around the yard. Before stripping off my clothes and jumping in water, I place a bedside clock on the deck to keep track of my swim time.

My workout consists of swimming against a powerful current produced by an underwater pump. Wearing snorkel gear, I can stay submerged for a long time—coming up only when I want to check the time or when water seeps into the breathing tube.


One afternoon I am swimming—naked, as usual. When the breathing tube starts filling with water, I pop my head out.

What’s this? The clock is turned around!

I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what this means. Someone has come in the yard through the back gate, seen my backside surfacing in the pool, and decided that before leaving quietly he will turn the clock around.

Very funny.

Who could it be? Few people enter the yard without my permission. It can’t be the pool cleaner. It’s not his day. The yard maintenance guys were here earlier in the week. I haven’t called my handyman, a plumber, or an electrician.

Whos Guilty?

I know only two friends who would look in my backyard when I don’t answer the doorbell. Oh, you rascals, I think. I decide not to call them but confront them in person. I want to watch their faces when I ask, “Did you come in my yard when I was swimming and turn my clock around?”

I do this, but it’s clear from their facial expressions that they are innocent.

Who, then? I doubt that the visitor was out for an erotic thrill because I am an overweight old lady. The only thing I know is, he has a sense of humor.

Fortunately, so do I.


Who Was Donald Trump’s Mother?

Rarely do men like Donald Trump come from happy families. Trump’s father was reportedly a tyrant. What was his mother like?

Mary Anne MacLeod was born in 1912 to Scottish parents living in a remote village on the Outer Hebrides Islands.tong Mary was one of a large brood of children. Her father worked as a fisherman and postman, and her family spoke Gaelic. Mary decided to emigrate to America at the age of 17 to reinvent herself as a successful American.

When Mary got off the ship in New York, she had only $50 in her pockets. She was one of many Scots who had come to the U.S. to make their fortunes. An older sister, Catherine, who had already moved to the States, found Mary’s a job as a “domestic.” Mary was a nanny for a wealthy family in the New York suburbs.

According to an old penpal of Mary’s and memorist, Agnes Stiven, the two girls met in Glasgow just before Mary’s trip to America. Stiven recalls that Mary’s job lasted four years. Then she had to return to Scotland because her employers lost their money during the Depression.

In 1934, Mary returned for a second try at success. Siven’s memoirs report that Mary was always ambitious, looking for opportunities to get ahead socially. In a photo of Mary just before she sailed from Scotland that year, she wears a glamorous winged coat and jaunty hat, and her confident stance suggests that she already hamary_ann_trump_larged her eye on the golden ring.

After arriving in New York, Mary Anne MacLeod participated in the city’s social scene as much as possible. Soon she met Frederick Trump at an elite dance. Trump was then building his fortune as a real estate developer. When Mary met him, he was considered one of the city’s most eligible bachelors. They married in 1936. Over the next few years, they had five children, of which Donald was the second.

Despite the fact that the Trump family lived a life of showy opulence, Fred did not give things to his children without conditions. When Donald’s behavior got too bad or his grades poor, his father deprived him of material things. Intimacy seems to have played little role in their relationship—or in any of the family relationships. Only his older brother, Fred, Jr., seemed to be a free spirit. (He died of alcoholism at age 42.)

mary-trumpMary never worked outside the home during their marriage. She was in most respects a traditional housewife. However, she devoted large amounts of time to social activities and charitable works. Mrs. Trump frequently appeared on New York City’s streets in opulent furs and jewelry—unlike the teenage girl who sailed to America in 1929. From the time her hair began to grey, she styled it in a blonde pompadour similar to her son’s trademark hairdo today. Mary finally became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1940.

From the age of five, Donald was getting into scrapes. He was belligerent in school, bullied other children, and challenged grown-ups. In the family’s prosperous Queens neighborhood, he developed the reputation of being an incorrigible child. He was the image of his fathefred-trumpr in many ways. After a series of Donald’s pranks when the boy was 13, Fred Trump abruptly sent him to a strict military school. His mother appears to have had no voice in the decision. The abandonment was hard for Donald, but eventually he relished the harsh school environment and the opportunities to bully other cadets.

Although personal information about the family is scant, Mary appears to have had much less influence on Donald’s development than his father. Fred Trump ruled the roost.

Mary MacLeod Trump died in 2000 at the age of 88, just a year after her husband passed away. Today, her remains are buried in New Hyde Park, New York, along with those of her deceased husband, Fred, and their first-born son, Fred Trump, Jr.

Airboats—An Abomination

I spent the weekend at Cedar Key, Florida, a village on the Gulf of Mexico. The business district, such as it is, faces the Gulf. The back side of Cedar Key overlooks numerous bayous. That’s where I was—high up on a house of stilts, enjoying the tides going in an out, watching gulls swoop down to catch fish, and listening to the wind blow.

Ah, peace.
Until the waterboats started. These fimgreslat-bottom motorboats are built to negotiate the shallow waters of bayous and marshes. They can do this because they use an above-board airplane propeller rather than a standard outboard motor. The propeller is driven by a powerful engine with no mufflers. Air boats are deafening. The noise is an abomination. As the motors roar across the water, the sound carries for miles. Birds scatter. The sound is enough to blight your weekend.

Have these people never heard of noise pollution? Is anybody doing anything?

Doing Nothing

bayouI am in an Alice-in-Wonderland B&B at Cedar Key, Florida, in a private guest room —an aerie, really. The home is built on stilts at the water’s edge overlooking a bayou. I’m getting hungry but don’t want to move from my chair on the porch.

Why is it hard to sit here and do nothing? The view over the bayou is calm, serene. White birds fly over the water. Silk-screen scarves flutter on the porch rail in front of me—blue, green, yellow, red, orange—all the primary colors. Only cars in the distance break the silence. A cool breeze blows across my body. The sky is a perfect blue, with no clouds in sight. The tide is out, uncovering islets of shell mounds and naked bayou floor. Emma, my dog, is sleeping on a bunched up down cover, settled in a warm, soft place. She snores now and then.

I don’t want to leave, but this inactivity makes me restless. I’ll wait until Emma stirs and I’ll chew nicotine gum until I can’t deny my hungry stomach any longer. Then I’ll put her service dog harness on and we’ll look for a restaurant.emma-ck

Still Trucking at 81

Today, one of my DrawSomething partners online didn’t believe me when I told her I was 81. She said I wouldn’t be on DrawSomething if I were that old.

She must not know many 81-year-olds. When I’m at my computer (about 4 hours a day) I play DrawSomething with several partners, sing on Smule (badly), and am addicted to the game BlocksAway. DrawSomething helps me dust off my sketching skills. In the 1950s I was an art major at the University of Wisconsin.

I move, too. I swim several times a week and walk my dog Trudy every morning. I have an electric scooter that I ride around the neighborhood in good weather and take on camping trips. About once a month, Trudy and I travel in my 21-foot camper to the beach and state parks in north Florida. It has everything–a microwave, gas stove, refrigerator, bathroom, running water,  and AC. It has a TV, but I never use it. I camp to get away from civilization. I also travel outside the U.S. frequently. Since my 70th birthday, I’ve been to Alaska (once alone, once with my daughter), Antarctica, Ecuador, and Vietnam.

Before retirement, I was a science writer. Now I write self-help articles and books, and publications about animals. I am finishing “Wild Dogs of the World” and “Great Animal Escape Stories” for middle school readers as e-books. Another book, “The EZ Big Book,” has been selling well as a paperback and e-book for over 3 years. I have graduate degrees in social sciences research (MS) and counseling (EdS). Graduate school was an experiment. After a year of listening to clients, I decided to become a mole again and returned to writing. I attend concerts regularly and read about three books a week.

I play the guitar and keyboard, but not very well. I’ve been playing the piano accordion since I was a 10-year-old kid in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I still pick that up when my fingering isn’t too stiff.

I laugh a lot and my friends think I’m funny. The above photo was taken in Antarctica 3 years ago. I’m well preserved, and the illusion is supported by regular hair coloring at the beauty salon.

To be 81 isn’t the same as being dead. That will come soon enough.

Blind Dog–Happy Dog after SARDS

In 2011, my 7-year-old dog Trudy lost her sight from SARDS (sudden acute retinal degeneration syndrome). I took her to veterinary specialists frantically seeking a cure for her blindness but there was none.

At first, Trudy bumped into walls trying to find her way around the house. She got anxious and confused easily. I thought our good life was over. I forgot that dogs don’t feel sorry for themselves. They don’t think about the future. They figure things out the best they can and get on with it.

Online experts agree that blind dogs shouldn’t be treated with pity. This makes them think that something really bad is happening. The experts say, “Don’t rush to help your dog because his blindness makes you sad.”

I followed their advice even though it was hard. When Trudy couldn’t find the door, I’d stand there and say in a cheerful voice, “Over here, Trudy,” until she found her way. If she missed a treat I’d thrown her, I’d let her sniff around until she found it. Like dogs everywhere, she has a great sense of smell.

Over the last two years, Trudy and I have grown closer and happier. Strange as it sounds, Trudy is more full of life than ever. She’s become more obedient, probably because I take more time with her. I never thought I could teach this crazy dog to “sit” and “stay,” but I did.

Since she became blind, Trudy—an escape artist—has found her way out of the yard at least four times. Her sight may be gone, but her love of adventure isn’t. After she ran off six months ago, I decided to paint the words “I am blind” on her harness. Since then, neighbors have either called or brought her home within an hour or two.

If you have a blind dog, here are some suggestions:

• Teach your dog to recognize words and phrases such as “Watch it!” or “Over here!” and important commands such as “Sit” and “Stay.” Trainers say that dogs can understand over 20 words and phrases.  One blind border collie has been reported to understand more than 200 words.

• Spend more time walking your dog, going places, and playing games. Trudy likes to hunt for her supper outdoors. I make a ball of dry and wet dog food and throw it across the backyard. Her tail wags until she’s found the last crumb. Dogs love scent games.

• Buy a Kong and other toys that hold treats. Dogs enjoy working for their food. It keeps them busy and happy for long periods.

• Be sure your dog has plenty of water. Dogs with SARDS-related adrenal problems tend to be abnormally thirsty. They pee often and their urine is dilute.

• Install at least one doggie door in your house. Many dogs get upset when they can’t wait and have an accident in the house.

• If your dog has trouble getting to the doggie door in time, put down carpet runners or other cues that lead to the door.

• If your dog has an accident in the house, don’t scold. Just clean it up.

• Don’t leave your dog in places where it’s too warm. When dogs with adrenal problems get hot, they pant more than healthy dogs and are more prone to heat exhaustion.

• Don’t move furniture around or leave large objects on the floor that might confuse your dog. Blind dogs make mental maps of their environment and depend on them.

• Keep a collar or harness with an ID tag on your dog at all times. A microchip is a good idea, too. Many owners find harnesses more effective than collars, because they offer better support and give the owner more control in tricky situations.

• Label the harness “I am blind.” People will treat your dog with understanding without your having to explain. Also, it almost guarantees that some dog lover will bring your dog back if she wanders off.

• If your dog is older and can’t get around easily, use a sturdy harness with a handle when you’re going someplace he’s not familiar with. You can give him a lift when needed.  These harnesses are made for dogs with arthritis and other mobility problems.

• Keep a short hand leash—12 to18 inches—attached to the dog’s collar to help guide her in confusing or upsetting situations when she’s too anxious to obey commands.

• When walking your dog, look for grates in the pavement or other things that might make him stumble. Get him used to words of warning such as “Watch it.”.

• When you approach a strange dog, take a slight detour. Your dog can’t see the stranger and doesn’t respond like a sighted dog. The other dog doesn’t understand why yours is acting funny. Dogs meeting each other send signals about who’s going to be dominant, and misunderstandings can cause trouble.

• If you have a pool, put a fence around it. Trudy fell in my pool twice until I put a barrier up. Luckily I was there to fish her out.

• Buy a pet gate and/or collapsible exercise pen to keep your dog away from dangerous areas.

• If your dog spends time outside in a fenced yard, be sure it’s escape-proof. Inspect it carefully for loose boards, gaps, and tempting openings between the fence and ground. If your dog likes to dig, install chicken wire from the bottom of the fence into the ground. This requires digging a trench for anchoring the chicken wire.

• Keep an eye on your cat, if you have one. Some cats take advantage of a blind dog and swat its face with sharp claws, causing painful damage to the cornea.  (My cat has tried.)

• When your dog has to stay at a kennel or with a friend for a few days, leave her bed or blanket and perhaps an unwashed personal garment for comfort.

Two excellent internet forums for owners of blind dogs are http://www.blinddog.info and http://www.blinddogs.net. The highly rated book Living with Blind Dogs by Caryn Levin RN gives owners detailed practical advice about helping blind dogs adjust (2004, 188 pages).

BeaconStreetUSA.com blogs from 2011 describing Trudy’s and my early experience with SARDS appear at https://beaconstreetusa.com/wp/?s=sards&submit=Go.

If your dog has lost his or her vision from SARDS, you might be as heartbroken as I was. Hang in there. You and your dog can have a happy life together again. It will just be a little different. Blind dogs take advantage of their sharp senses and smell and hearing to make up for their lost sight. You’ll be amazed.

World War II planes lead a civilian life

In 1952, I married a college sweetheart who joined ROTC and became an Air Force officer after graduation.  After qualifying for pilot training, he started flight lessons in the Piper Cub, then graduated to a retired fighter plane, the Mustang. After that he learned to fly the famous B-17 bomber.

Training began at Gilbert Field in Bartow, Florida, where a class of twenty fresh young lieutenants had their first experience as pilots.

The little J3 Piper Cubs had tandem seats in the cockpit with dual controls, one set for the student and the other for the flight instructor. The plane was easy to pull out of spins and stalls because of its lightness. If the engine couldn’t be restarted, the plane continued to glide downward to a landing in the hands of a skilled pilot.

Despite the safety of the aircraft, one or two of each class of twenty fledgling pilots crashed due to pilot error, generally caused by panic. It was easy to get scared during training stalls, dives, and other death-defying maneuvers.

In 1954, the young lieutenants who survived the first phase of training packed off to West Palm Beach, Florida, where they learned to fly P-51 Mustangs, the fighter planes that shot down German Messerschmidts and Jap Zeroes in World War II. While flying Mustangs wasn’t for the faint of heart, fewer young pilots crashed because were more skilled aviators by this time.

Their flight instructors were old warriors from dogfights over Germany and Japan a few years earlier. By the mid-1950s, many were family men who missed the adrenaline rush of their youth.  When they soloed for leisure or practice, some pulled forbidden acrobatic stunts when they could avoid identification.  Since air-to-ground communications were still primitive in those days, former aces sometimes buzzed the tower, then climbed into the clouds before anyone could catch the ID on their fuselage. Or they did tight barrel rolls for friends on the ground away from the eyes of tale-tellers.

The last phase of training prepared pilots for the airplanes they would fly for the rest of their enlistment. My husband flew a former B-17 bomber—the Flying Fortress.   During WW II,  formations of twenty-five or more bombers flew missions over the Pacific, Japan and Europe. The B-17 stood as high as a two-story building and had a wingspan the length of three city school buses.

Enemy fighter planes had to inflict serious harm on a B-17 to bring it down. Even when one suffered extensive damage, it could usually limp home.  As the war advanced, the Flying Fortress became even more impervious to enemy fire because Air Force strategists found a way to protect formations.  They assigned P-51 Mustangs (“Red Tails”) to drive off enemy fighter planes.  Called “Little Friends,” one squadron of Mustangs was flown by African-American pilots known as the Tuskeegee Airmen, whose story is told in the film “Red Tails.”

With a flight range of almost 2000 miles, B-17s were retired from their bombing missions after the war and served as transport planes, carrying servicemen and cargo to U.S. military bases around the globe.

Granny Buys an RV

A few years ago when I was in my mid-seventies, I bought an RV—a 32-foot Class C Dodge that had been driven all over the U.S. by missionaries for 35 years.  After having the vehicle repaired and restored to good working condition, I planned to camp in Florida state parks with my dog.  For my maiden trip, I went to Manatee Springs State Park, an hour from home.

Arriving at the ranger station, I pull up to a stop sign and walk across the road to sign in. That done, I return to the vehicle to drive to my campsite. But there’s a problem. The passenger door scrapes against the stop sign as I try to move forward, making the screeching sound of metal on metal. Putting the engine in reverse, I attempt to back up.  Unfortunately, the vehicle has engaged itself with the stop sign and will not move.  I can’t proceed in either direction.

Figuring that the ranger may fare better, I call her over.  She slips behind the wheel and puts the RV in first.  Then she tries reverse. Same result.  The RV and stop sign have merged to become one.

The ranger says we’ll have to dismantle the sign.  Getting tools from the office, she starts removing screws. I’m doing my best to be witty and apologetic.  When the sign is in pieces on the ground and the RV is set free, I thank her profusely.  I drive to my assigned campsite.

As I’m backing in, the gravel entry looks clear in the rear view mirrors.  However, before the RV moves very far, I feel resistance.  How can this be? There’s nothing back there! I push on the accelerator a little more.  Now I’m sure there’s resistance.

Getting out to investigate, I see that I’ve backed into the electrical outlet, uprooting it from the ground.  Red and black wires dangle from the box. How mortifying.  I return to the ranger station where the ranger is still putting the stop sign back together.  When I tell her what happened, she laughs patiently an says, “Don’t worry. Happens all the time. Just pick out another site.”  I can feel myself blushing.

At the new site, I back in with my eyes glued on the electrical outlet in the rear view mirror.  I feel resistance again.  Impossible. I’ve got the goddam electrical box right in my line of sight.  So I put more pressure on the accelerator. The RV still doesn’t want to move.  Time to get out once more. This time I’ve uprooted the faucet, which is poking out of the ground and spraying water everywhere.

There are no words for what I’m feeling.  I’d like to sink into the earth and keep going until I reach China. But I know I must return to the ranger and confess.  What the hell will I say?  I decide that I’ll offer a substantial donation to Manatee Springs State Park—say, one hundred dollars.

This time the ranger’s not smiling anymore.  Luckily, when I reach the part of my story that includes the donation, her sense of humor returns.  She sends me off to a third campsite.

Now I am top of things! My eyes are trained on both the electric outlet and the water faucet in the rear view mirrors. Yay! I’ve cleared them. Life is good again.  I keep backing up until the front end of the RV is well out of the road.

Then…you guessed it.  Resistance.  Now I am getting angry. This is ridiculous.  Absolutely nothing can be back there this time.  Reason has left me.  I’m a bulldog.

Suddenly I realize that I forgot about the picnic able.  I have pushed a massive hardwood table about five feet deeper into the campsite.  I’ve dented the back of the RV.

This time I don’t tell anyone.

*   *   *