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Just part of a 50-year journey
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When a couple is married for 50 years, it is actually a century of trying to support each other when it’s all added up.

A four-day trip to Santa Barbara last week brought a lot of memories to the fore – experiences of long ago that were indelible marks burned into our psyches.  Thoughts of our four kids from birth to their graduation from college were all fresh in our minds, but learning of a barn owl caught in the chimney was news of yet another adventure in our family.

Son Scott called from Texas over the long weekend to remind me of the many 50th anniversary parties he had helped me photograph over the years.  “Dad, many of those couples could hardly walk because of their age.  You and mom are awesome.”  Of course, that was much better than a Hallmark Card he could have dropped in the mail – albeit that had already come along with our kids sending money to have the best ever dinner in their absence. We had heard from all of them.

As far as the “awesome” reference, it belongs more to Mary Lou than it does to me through her support of the five of us – always thinking ahead and always being prepared for what was to come.  We’ll be getting to the story of the owl here – but not quite yet.

We took a few days last week and drove down to Solvang and on to Santa Barbara where we met Mary Lou’s sister and our brother-in-law who were  married in 1961 just a year after we were – also in the San Diego area community of Chula Vista.  Pat, also an elementary school principal, and Pete – a former police officer and a longtime engineer – have been more than just family members.  It was great to have them along for our historical ride. And it was their “owl story” that we hadn’t heard about that should have been sent to Reader’s Digest.  

Putting both couples together in perspective represents nearly 200 years – Wow!  It’s not that we were all perfect spouses, but we did attempt to work at it through days, weeks, months and years.

When staying at a Danish motel in Solvang, I ran into folks who had been on the road from Germany and from Mexico who were all easy to chat with about their travels.  The family from Mexico – dad with his new Canon digital – had been taking pictures with a son and daughter-in-law of the clock tower and the moon off in the distance from the second-floor roof.

An opportunity to take photos of young love birds
I couldn’t just walk by them without talking about their camera angles and the little bit of fill light they were using to dramatize their shots. Come to find out the two love birds had just been married and they asked me if I knew anything about photography and wanting me to take their pictures.

They didn’t have to ask twice and it turned out to be a very sensual shot that demonstrated their love for each other without being gushy. No doubt they were very much in love.  It was my privilege to be a part of that warmth between them that hopefully will last the magical 50 years and beyond.

The Solvang tourist town pretty much rolls up its streets in the early evening during the week and we found it difficult to locate a place to eat except the country club on the south side of town. Not too expensive and we got to witness a couple of the locals bringing their four-legged friends into the patio area just outside the glassed in dining area as they dined inside.

Over the years I have worked diligently to correct my habit of leaving things laying around the house.  Mary Lou has always been behind me to see things are put away where they should be – this trip was no different.  Intentionally leaving two pairs of slacks hanging on a door knob so I wouldn’t forget to put them in the car, was a bad idea.

When we were unpacking things in Solvang it was puzzling that my dress slacks were nowhere to be found.  At long last memories of packing up the day before came together.  The hangered slacks had caught someone’s eye, as being left where they shouldn’t have been, and were immediately rehung in the closet.  Now, that’s efficiency.

So we made a side trip to Sears in Santa Barbara and into the men’s department where luckily their dress pants were set at 50 per cent off.  What a deal.

Barn owl experience
It was over breakfast Saturday morning that my brother-in-law mentioned his experience with the full-grown barn owl that had fallen into his chimney during a rain storm – having gained only the attention of the family cat for three days.

Now, where else could you come up with a story like this except on a family junket and over a long casual breakfast?

And to make it worse it all happened when four of their kids were quarantined in the upstairs bedrooms with chicken pox with word quickly getting out in the neighborhood that an owl was stuck way down in their chimney – hordes of children were knocking at their door to see the bird.

My sister-in-law said she had been puzzled at the cat’s attention to the fireplace every time it came into the house from outside.  She finally laid down in the hearth where she could see what she thought was a rabbit lying against the damper.  When dad came home from work it was his challenge to come up with a solution.  Spending $1,000 for a contractor to cut a hole into the outside of the stack wasn’t one they felt they could afford – a choice that would have destroyed the chimney?

So they dropped meat down the opening attached to fishing line without success, but effectively drawing neighbors’ attention to the man on the room – apparently fishing for something.

Finally they teamed up in the hearth after Pete had covered his arm with leather wrappings and his wife Pat – squeezed into the fireplace opening –  had a small pack of meat she was waving to draw the bird’s attention away from her husband’s hand.   With the bird distracted, he was able grab it above the talons and pull it down through the small opening in the damper.

He told me he was thankful it didn’t spread its wings as he feared at least one would be broken in the process.  Once out of the chimney and in the living room, with its legs held at arms’ length, it spread those wings from his face to past his right hand.  Kids were knocking on the front door wanting to see the owl while their own children were leaning over the banister outside the quarantined upstairs bedrooms.

Luckily the owl showed no immediate aggression, except to stare his captor in the eye. A former paratrooper, he said it was an experience he will never forget.  The weight of the full-grown bird being held away from his face, while standing in his living room, was also more than he had expected.  Pete realized later that the bird he described as the most beautiful he had ever seen was not interested in cooked meat as a predator.

My brother-in-law continued his story saying he took the bird out the back door and released it – hoping it could fly after three days trapped the chimney.  Fly it did to the back fence and then back to a rock near the house where it appeared to rest and get its bearings for half an hour before heading out of the neighborhood.

As for unbelievable tales – it was only second to their finding a coiled rattle snake sleeping on the mat outside their front door.  What else would a couple want to chat about at breakfast on their 50th wedding anniversary?  Memories!