The Library and the Peeing Fireman

We now live 4 doors down from the village offices. Also, in the same compound with the village offices are the police station, the volunteer rescue squad, the volunteer fire department, the village museum and the library.

The first week we were here, after we’d taken care of procuring a hamster, we went down the street to the library to get library cards. It’s an old-timey library like the one that used to be in downtown Canton, OH, where I grew up 40 years ago. They tore that library down and built a new modern one. They did it in the 1970s, which was an unfortunate time to build anything because architects were so bad. The new Canton library was an ugly-ass building. (It was the first major building in Ohio to be fully solar heated and cooled, which is cool, but it was an ugly-ass building. And because of the funny roof they had constant problems with leaks — water leaking on books, not good.) But this Potsdam library is still a lot like the old Canton Library. So it brings me fond memories.

Having the volunteer rescue and the fire department so close means that every time they get called out, we know it. They each have sirens. Loud sirens. People in the Midwest and other parts of the country reserve those kinds of sirens for tornado warnings and air raids. In New York, small towns have a tradition, leftover from the 19th century, where they blow their sirens whenever there is a call for fire or ambulance services.

It’s totally unnecessary in the 21st century. I was on a volunteer ambulance squad for a while. We all got pagers. We did just fine without a siren. The siren is a way for these groups to keep the community aware of how much they do, how often they are called on for help, how they are heroes.

And of course, they do provide vital services. I’m not saying they don’t. But the sirens are strictly for massaging their egos. And keeping the neighbors up at night. In the 21st century there is absolutely no excuse for sirens. Besides, if there’s ever a tornado or an air raid, nobody will know to take cover.

On the short walk back from the library, on the corner by the fire station, there is a carving, carved from a huge block of tree trunk, of a fireman and a dalmatian in set up in the yard and surrounded by shrubberies. From one angle, approaching from the lower Main Street side, you can see perfectly well what it’s intended to be. But coming from the other direction, the carving looks like the fireman is peeing in the bushes.

peeing fireman

We’ve started referring to it as a kind of landmark.

“Ok, to get there (to the library, the village offices, the Presbyterian church) you leave the house to the left, then turn left again at the peeing fireman.”

It has also come to represent how we feel about the firemen interrupting our conversations during the day and waking us up in the night.

But did I mention, we love the library.

Hamster

Sir SnugglesI never had a hamster when I was a kid.

The closest I ever was to having a hamster was taking care of Ben Winter’s hamster. Ben lived down the street. I sometimes got to have the hamster while he was on vacation. It was never more than a week. Under Ben’s care, that hamster lasted several years.

So I never had a dead hamster. But Brooke did. Several times. Brooke’s hamsters never lived more than a month.

I’ve known other families with hamsters. And dead hamsters.

When I was in seminary, I knew a guy, Wayne. Wayne a big guy, maybe about 7½ feet tall and built like a truck. He had two daughters. They had a hamster. It died.

Because it was seminary, they had to have a funeral. Because it was seminary, a school for training pastors, Wayne was taking this as an opportunity to practice what he’d been taught about ministry to the bereaved.

So they were out in the back lot of family student housing having this funeral. Little hole in the ground. Little shoebox with dead hamster carefully laid out with tissue paper lining the casket.

The prayers were said, the shoebox lowered into the hole, the final words pronounced — “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” — and the hole filled in.

Then, on the way back home, one of the daughters asked, “Now what happens?”

Wayne, towering over the little girl, started to explain how the hamster would decompose and turn back to the earth. He was doing his best to share graduate school theology with a 6-year old.

She said, “So, what you’re saying, Dad, is that he’s going to turn into a little pile of dirt.”

This wasn’t how Wayne’s seminary professors had put it, but he nodded his head, yes.

“Golly, Dad,” she said. “When you die, you’re going to make a big pile of dirt!”

So much for practicing pastoral care.


Two weeks before we moved, the kid decided that he absolutely needed a kitten. We have three cats in the house already, so there was no way we were going to get a new kitten. And certainly not just before moving. But he was inconsolable about a new kitten.

“Why?” we asked.

“Because they’re small and cute and soft and fuzzy,” he said.

Because his parents both went to seminary, we’d been to the same courses on grieving and loss that Wayne had been to. We figured maybe the impending loss of his friends was weighing on him. Maybe we should do something to ease his transition.

So we talked him down from a kitten to a hamster — after the move.

We did this, in spite of Brooke’s experience that the most a hamster will live is generally a month. As a creature whose purpose in our household is substitutionary atonement, we feel badly for the hamster. And we’re not at all sure our seminary professors, or child psychologists for that matter, would approve of bringing a creature we half expect to die any minute into the house as an aid in grieving the loss of friends.

But we did.

The nearest place from our new home to get a hamster is Watertown. A 2-hour drive. One way.

We made the pilgrimage to hamster land (a.k.a. Petco) 5 days after our arrival. We were relieved that the hamster came with a 30-day guarantee, but I still wonder if I’ve got the patience to make another 4-hour round trip to Watertown to take advantage of the guarantee, should the worst occur before the 30 days is up.

On the way home, the kid named the hamster:

Mr. Sir Snuggles Newell Green the First

One of the church ladies at the new church brought over her son’s old habitrail tubes to attach to the bare-bones starter cage we got with the hamster, and last weekend, when we tried to clean the cage, we couldn’t get Mr. Sir Snugges, etc. out of the tubes without scattering uneaten seeds, peed bedding and hamster shit all over the kid’s bedroom floor.

Also, every now and then, the hamster flings bedding and poo pellets out of the cage. They land on the floor in front of the kid’s dresser, whence they get tracked all around the upstairs. So it’s not uncommon to find a piece of stray hamster poo on the bathroom floor or in the front hall.

In spite of the random poo pellets, we have asked everyone we know to pray mightily for his survival. So far it’s worked. The hamster has survived 12 days under our son’s care. And every night at dinner in our new home, we make a toast to Mr. Sir Snuggles, etc.’s long and healthy life, and that another day has passed without a backyard shoebox funeral.

Here’s to Mr. Sir Snuggles Newell Green the First!

New Parsonage Fix-ups

A long time ago in a land far away, when all clergy were assigned to their parishes by bishops, the tradition got started that churches had to provide housing for their parish pastors. (The practice also has roots in clergy taking vows of poverty — so they didn’t own their own houses, or money to buy them. As opposed to the church institution itself, which at the time had plenty of money.)

The practice of housing being provided for pastors in the church parsonage, or manse as they’re sometimes called, continues today. And there are upsides and downsides.

The upside is that you don’t have to do a real estate transaction every time you move (though many clergy do work out alternate arrangements to buy their own homes, and some churches do sell their parsonages).

The downside is that, in an age when many churches are struggling to pay the bills, parsonage maintenance is often one of the lower priorities. We’ve been in some lovely homes over the years. But we’ve also moved into some disasters.

The worst was the parsonage in Fort Anne, NY, where on the first morning in the new house, Brooke plugged her hair dryer into the outlet by the bathroom sink and when she turned it on the exhaust fan in the ceiling came on instead of the hair dryer. (To save money, someone in the church had wired the bathroom instead of having an electrician do it. They had wired the whole bathroom in series — on two wires, no ground.)

That parsonage also had wall plaster being held in place with duct tape and a hole in the middle of the living room floor that they’d covered over with a piece of plywood. When we asked about getting it fixed so our newborn kid wouldn’t fall through it the response was, “just put a rug over it.”

The nicest parsonage was in Ballston Spa. It was in perfect condition, in a nice neighborhood. Not extravagant, but a place anyone would like to live. The second nicest was the one we just came from in Jay, NY. So we were a little spoiled coming into this move.

This parsonage, like most, is somewhere in the middle. It’s a nice house. It’s a huge house. Bigger than what we need, and more than the church really needs. And it’s a stretch for the church to maintain it, but they’re doing the best they can. And the previous pastor, a well-loved man who had been here for 7 years, wasn’t the handiest of fellows. So there were a few issues.

  • The doorbell didn’t work. In a large house you need a working doorbell.
  • The front doors didn’t work. They stuck.
  • The back door latch was broken and the back door stuck.
  • Several drains were clogged.
  • Several drawers in the kitchen were mis-installed and didn’t run on their tracks.
  • A closet light was hanging from wires out of a hole in the wall.
  • There were no towel bars installed in the bathroom.

There were other issues that the church folk did their best to fix during the short interlude between the previous pastor’s moving out and our moving in. They did the best they could. I’m not complaining or holding it against them. They’ve all been great and have gone to a lot of trouble to welcome us to our new home. We appreciate everything they’ve done.

On the whole these are not a lot of issues, and they’re all things I can fix myself. I’ve taken care of most of them in the two weeks we’ve been here. Anyone might discover things like this moving into any new home. It’s part of moving.

It’s also a little like being in an episode of This Old House. Only you get to do it every 2-4 years, on average.

We’re hoping that, now that the kid is going into 6th grade, we’ll be able to stay put until he graduates from high school. That’s 7 years. The previous pastor managed to stay that long. It could happen.

Mental Maps

We moved. 10 days ago yesterday.

I was amazed at the amount of stuff we had to pack. I knew we had a lot of stuff. This wasn’t our first move, after all. But somehow in the four years since the last move we seem to have accumulated twice the stuff we had before.

Upon arrival, we had boxes everywhere. And because we packed most of it in the last couple of days, a lot of it went into whatever box was handy at the moment. The earlier boxes were coded with colored tape to indicate which room they had been packed from. The latter boxes were random — “Just hand me a roll of tape.”

Boxes all over

So there is kitchen stuff in boxes with living room stuff in boxes with bedroom stuff in boxes with bathroom stuff. Bedding used as padding for fragile knick-knacks. Hand towels tossed in with overcoats.

On arrival, the movers (who were very good — Brock’s Moving & Storage) dutifully deposited all the boxes in their proper tape-coded locations. Alas, the tape-code had been rendered largely meaningless. And for the past 10 days we’ve been rummaging through boxes whenever we have need of anything.

Boxes surrounding kid with cape

We are gradually finding new places for things. But those places frequently change as we live into the new patterns around the house.

All this has reminded me how critical mental maps are. My brain (maybe yours, too) stores information in maps. Not just information about physical stuff, but even mental stuff — like which folder I’ve stored files in on my computer and whose name belongs to this face. The move, and the disruption of my mental map about where most of my stuff is, has disrupted other major parts of my map along with it. And it’s been exhausting.

Everything takes longer. Where is this? What did I do with that thing. Where did I last see it? Was it in a box? A box in which room? Did I put it away? Where did I put it? Oh, yes, I did put it there, but then I moved it to this other spot. With each thing I have to go back to the trail-head. Sometimes as far as to where I last saw it in the old house, where I was when I packed it, and what did the box look like at that point — then where did I last see that box here, and did I open it and what did I do with it. I have no direct route to get there yet.

Gradually, 10 days on, things are starting to re-coalesce into a new map. I’m finding my way around better than I was for the first few days. Yesterday, I was finally able to begin to function more-or-less normally for the first time in a long while, and it felt good.

So what did I do with all that energy?

I started on New Parsonage Fix-ups….

Rocket Camp: Launch Day

So, we’re moved. More on that later.

We did some quick research over the weekend to see what was happening and found SUNY Canton was offering a week of rocket camp. As it turns out, it was combined with a week of bridge building camp so we got the kid signed up on a 2-for-1 deal and he did both this week. He had a great time, met some new friends, and didn’t sit around all week watching dumb-ass videos on YouTube. Truly, a win-win-win. Today was launch day for the rockets they built. Thanks to John and Maggie for a great week.

The first 5 minutes is getting the rocket ready to go. Countdown and blastoff are at 5:30. Reading the flight data is at 6:50.

For non-geek Americans, 141 meters is 462 feet. 146 km/h is 90 mph.

Enjoy!