Sunday, September 02, 2012


Over the years,  my family had a number of dogs.

Our first dog had a bit of a temper.  It went into a rage any time visitors came by.  You could see that the paint was bitten off the window frames in the living room as he faced the frustration of not being able to get at the intruders.

Let me first tell this story the way I thought it went and then make the correction that my mother brought up when I related the story many years later.  The dog, named Attacker, liked to bite at my sister's dress.  One day, my sister came to report this problem to my father:  "Attacker bite Nettie!"  My father, deeply absorbed in his newspaper, distractedly replied back "Nettie bite Attacker!"  A moment later, we heard a scream from the other room, and my sister Anette came back spitting hair out of her mouth.

When I related this story, my mother told me that although the Danish name of the dog indeed sounded like Attacker, it actually meant Furball.  But the story would not have been as interesting told that way.

Next, we got two Golden Retrievers--Nuser and Vaks.  Nuser some behavioral problems--I no longer remember the details--and we ended up giving him to one of the ranch hands.  One time, we kept one of Vaks' puppies.  Because of her large spot, we named her the Danish equivalent of Spottie.  Then we got a Swiss Mountain Dog named Carla (minus the brandy flask on the collar).  We brought these three dogs with us when we moved to California in 1978.

Vaks and Spottie enjoyed roaming around.  They would often be gone for twenty-four hours or more.  Our house was up on a hill, below which on the one side was the barn.  Although the dogs liked to run on long trips, they did not feel like walking back up the hill to the house afterward, so they would wait for my mother to drive down to pick them up. My mother sensed Vaks' resentment when she did not come quickly enough.

My mother had promised my youngest sister, Pernille, a poodle after we moved to California.  Unfortunately, the poodle passed away a few days after we got it.  For some reason, Pernille ended up choosing a wire haired Fox Terrier--the dog that Tin Tin had--as the replacement.  Change, however, has never been my strong suit, so I continued to refer to the new dog--Snoopy--as "the poodle."  Other members of the family corrected me for years, but my I persisted.  Finally, one day when I told Snoopy that "You're a bad poodle!" my mother finally relented, saying, "No, she's a good poodle!"

Vaks and Carla eventually passed away while we lived in Paso Robles.  Spottie lasted for a number of additional years.  One year, we exhibited the horses at the California State Fair and had a booth.  Spottie had just had puppies, and we brought them all along.  A little girl walked by our booth and was overtaken with disgust.  "Eew!  Those a pigs!  I bet they smell!" she cried out with indignation.

One night, my mother had a dream that we acquired a new "poodle" or Fox Terrier. I got to name her and chose the name Profit.  Several years later, some missionaries came by.  Profit ran out when Pernille opened the door.  "That's a beautiful name!" exclaimed the missionaries as Pernille called her back.  Pernille did not have the heart to tell them about the spelling of the name.

As she grew older, Spottie spent most of the day sleeping.  My mother said that she was not looking forward to having to call me when she passed away.  She actually got out of that obligation as she was just about to leave on a trip as it happened and delegated the task.

As the other dogs passed away, Profit became the lone surviving dog.  When my mother was eating, Profit would approach.  She was so confident that my mother would slip her a treat that she started wagging her tail before my mother delivered.

Profit was rather energetic.  Unfortunately, she tried to jump out of a car with an open window and, being on a leash, ended up strangling herself.

My mother then acquired a Welsh Corgi.  We named him buck.  My mother said that she had deliberately chosen the humblest member of the litter, but he was the humblest only by default.  He never realized that my mother was the one who fed him and that he had probably better stay on her good side.  It turned out that my mother never cut his food rations no matter his non-compliance, so he may have gotten the last laugh.

A corgi is supposed to have a life expectancy of some ten years.  About five years ago, my mother started to prepare me that Buck might not be with us much longer, but I saw no sign of decline and expressed my doubts.  Eventually, he started to cut down his activity level significantly, but he lasted until age fifteen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Insincerity and deceit

When we were about 5-10 years old, my late grandmother repeatedly told my sister and me that she loved us more than our cousins.  To avoid hurt feelings, however, she swore us to secrecy.

Apparently, she told the same thing to my two uncles' children.  Unfortunately, one of my cousins was not able to keep the secret and gleefully told my sister and me of our grandmother's pronounced favoritism.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An exchange ahead of its time

One might say that I and a friend of mine anticipated text messaging by many years.

Back in 1991 when I started the Ph.D. program, I got access to e-mail for the first time.  A friend of mine at another institution and I often exchanged messages.  My friend, being burdened by having both a wife and two children, was often too busy to send much of a message, but to show that he had not forgotten me, he would send brief messages.

One day, he sent me a message asking, "How are you doing?"

I then sent him an e-mail with the subject header "How I am doing."  The body of the message was "OK."

"Good!" my friend replied back.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

A misdeed

During the first years I spent in the doctoral program, I lived in University housing.  One day, in the dark of night when nobody was watching, I put a "No Hunting or Fishing" sign on the gate into the apartment complex.  I doubt that many wild animals made their way into the complex.  Although there was a pool, it was left empty while I lived there, so opportunities for fishing would likely also have been rather minimal.  Still, one had better be safe!

The night day, I was rather frustrated when it looked like a custodian was about to remove the sign.  Much to my relief, however, it turned out that he was only straightening up the sign and making sure that it was securely attached.

Friday, April 06, 2012

A stupd Christmas carol

As Easter approaches, I am reminded of a rather stupid Danish Christmas carol.  The main words of the song go roughly as follows:

     Now it's Christmas again
     Now it's Christmas again
     And Christmas lasts all the way until Easter
     No, that is not true!
     No, that is not true!
     Since in between comes the fast

Why would anyone write such garbage?  Why are people stupid enough to keep singing something so stupid?  Things may have changed over the last thirty years, but back when I grew up in Denmark, it seemed to be one of the more popular songs.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Ice cream

My first elementary school was in Elsinore, the setting of Hamlet.  Elsinore had been the capital of Denmark at an earlier period in time due to the city's strategic location.  It was only a few miles across the ocean to Sweden--a distance much shorter than what you would have to sail if you started in Copenhagen--so this was a great place for a  Naval stronghold where fees could be exported from those who wanted to pass through.  (The Danish Vikings were rather aggressive.  During parts of the 11th Century, they had the audacity to invade and occupy Britain,  a country with some ten times the population of Denmark.  The British had to pay a steady tribute to avoid further incursions.)

In Elsinore, there was an ice cream parlor that we would sometimes visit after school.  One another occasion, my late grandmother brought my sister and me there for an ice cream cone.  She reflected on an ice cream parlor that she had patronized in her youth and commented on how much more expensive the ice cream had become.  I no longer remember the exact figure, but she probably said that an ice cream cone cost something in the neighborhood of 5-10 cents when she was growing up.

My grandmother then told us that the ice cream she bought in a similar ice cream parlor during her childhood  "tasted like cardboard."

I was curious why she had bought the ice cream given the seemingly unappealing taste.

"Oh, I wasn't all that finicky," my grandmother replied in a very defiant and self-righteous voice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sister Cindy

Back when I was in college, a traveling evangelist named Jed Smock would often come by colleges preaching.  An article in Wikipedia describes his style as "confrontational evangelism."  Although he readily confesses to his own misspent youth and his conversion, he was viewed skeptically by many.  During one of "Brother Jed's" visits, exasperated members of one campus evangelical organization put up banners saying that "There is sanity in Christianity!"

One at least one occasion, Jed brought along his wife, "Sister Cindy," who described herself as "a former disco queen" who had reformed.  My sister indignantly reported to the rest of the family that Sister Cindy had admonished the women in the crowd that, before they accepted a marriage proposal, to ask their potential future husband, "Will you make me obey you?"

Without missing a beat, my mother remarked, "It might be more appropriate to ask, 'Can you make me obey you?'"