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The silver lining of tough times

They say times are tough these days, but you couldn’t tell it by our cheerful and talkative house guest. We are bird sitting the most talkative parrot I’ve ever known. He must know 85 words and, heck, I only know 63.Rebel the parrot likes Oreo cookie crumbs and Diet Pepsi. In addition to talking, he belches and coughs. Have I mentioned that he’s a bachelor’s parrot? The bird holds entire one-sided phone conversations: “Brrrring … Hello? Yeah, uh huh, uh huh. Okay. Bye.” He also informs us of his behavior. “You’re a bad bird, Rebel. You’re a bad flinger!” Rebel tells us this as he clutches birdseed and throws it on the floor. Once, a neighbor came over to look in on him when we were out of town. As she scooped some seed for the bird, Rebel craned his neck and inquired, “Waddaya doin’ there? Waddaya doin’ there?” The neighbor about jumped out of her skin!We love the bird, but he is a bit of an imposition for us here on the ranch. Rebel has taken over an entire bedroom. I don’t mind. To help out a friend with bird sitting is a kindness that I enjoy. Sharing some extra space in our home feels good, and it’s an especially fine luxury to have a little surplus to share.For many years, we had no surplus of any kind. For different reasons we’ve both been absolutely on our own since being teenagers and how lucky we are for that! Being baby boomers, we are surrounded by peers given college educations, huge bags of cash, homes, cars, hundreds of acres of land and more. Most of these folks are not particularly happy. For to accept large gifts, often one must grovel a bit and also accept the mold one is pressed into by such gifts. Many folks are so surrounded and infused by a life-long leg up that they don’t even realize or acknowledge it. This is a real tragedy. People long assisted do not lead grateful lives, nor do they learn of or cultivate the deep and maturing resources of self-reliance found within.Years ago, when the kids were small, we lived in a drafty old trailer house while we saved for our future. I installed a secondhand wood stove to save money on heat. We were happy to have an alternative to heating the place, but the trailer walls were so thin that on particularly cold winter nights I’d sleep on the living room floor, waking now and then to stoke that old wood burner as if it were the roaring boiler of a steam locomotive. Keeping the back bedrooms in the 50-some-degree-range was an important goal. I surrounded the stove with fire proofing, remembering as a mobile home owner that fires were almost as common as a tornado attack – the two natural enemies of rickety trailer houses. We were grateful for that stove and banked the saved utility expenses for our future.During our lean years of saving, I learned that I could accomplish all kinds of auto repair on my own. Books and manuals became my friends. We realized cars, treated with respect and reasonable care, can go over 300,000 miles. I am grateful now to have concrete under the car I am working on. Rebuilding a carburetor and having several springs and ball bearings fall out and burrow into gravel can give a home mechanic an appreciation for smooth surfaces.Life is so much better now. All those years of working under adversity – Adversity University I’d called it – have paid off. What people call “tough times” were all we’d ever known. These days, we have white walls in our self-built home. No more tacky paneling for us! We own reputable used cars from the 90s and have a garage with doors that open at the touch of a button. The one holdover from bygone days is our spare car, a 1983 Honda Civic. The mere appearance of it would violate the covenants of nicer communities. This ancient runner we have owned since it was four years old. We are certainly grateful for white, well-insulated walls in our home with no frost in the corners on cold nights, and we are grateful for cars without buck-toothed grilles and tail lights that don’t involve any red cellophane. We’ve come to appreciate the strength that working through decades of adversity has given us.And so it came, a couple of weeks ago we decided to acquire a “new” washer. The venerable family washer, a Kenmore we bought new in 1985, was still working fine. I’ve repaired it so many times over the years. But we’ve admired the new energy-efficient, gentle-on-clothing front-loading models since 1999. We’ll wait, we agreed. Waiting is something we’ve gotten good at. “Wait and these front loaders will start turning up at the Goodwill,” we said. “People always want something new.”Well, we found one! It’s a Kenmore with eco-cycle and high-speed spin. Not fancy by today’s standards, which is just how we like it. I dollied the 1985 Kenmore out to the garage, and we set up our “new” 2002 machine. Then we made tea and got couch cushions and sat on the floor to watch the washer’s doings through its glass door porthole. We smiled and high-fived each other as we drank tea and admired a smooth, efficient machine.While basking in the washer’s performance and our good fortune in finding it, I noted the laundry room is directly across from the parrot’s room. Rebel will be as entertained by watching the washer as we are. I opened Rebel’s bedroom door. He saw us sitting on the floor and the new, strange machine with its whirling window of color. Cocking his head to one side and shuffling back and forth on his perch he demanded, “Waddaya doin’ there? Waddaya doin’ there?”Being grateful, Rebel. Being grateful and kind of goofy, but just being grateful yet again.Tom

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