A Chip Off The Old Writer’s Block

by Donald Wilson on June 19, 2011


Oven "Barbecued" Pork Ribs

We owe so much of who we are to our parents.  For better or for worse, we are our parents’ children.  I’ll never forget the experience of hearing Andrew, not long after he came to live with me, hit me with a sarcastic response to a question he thought had an obvious answer.  The kid could barely read and still spoke with a strong accent, yet suddenly he was Jay Leno doing a perfect impression of me!  Parenting does matter.

My father did not grow up in the generation of “wearing your emotions on your sleeve” as many my age or younger did.  However, my father found a way to express his deep love and passion for his family.  Early in our childhood, my father started to write a yearly Christmas story that he then read out loud to us on Christmas Eve.   As we sat around the tree in anticipation of the first gift, we prepared ourselves for  these stories that were sometimes funny and fantastical and other times quite serious.  No matter what the genre, he always managed to include every member of the family and a way to honor us and say, “I love you.”  Each year as he finished the story, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, wife, and kids would wipe away the tears and jump into the rest of the festivities knowing how deeply my dad cared for us.   These stories have become an important part of my brother’s, sister’s and my DNA, providing us with unseen guidance and strength as we make our way through adulthood.

My father also wrote letters.  Not many; but when you got one of “Dad’s letters” you had to brace yourself.   His letters were a mix of advice and love.  They were not chatty or informative about family or current events.  They were an outpouring of concern and love. The message was always: “You are loved.  No matter what, you are loved.”

Having a dad who writes has been one of my greatest joys.  I often go back and read his letters and Christmas stories.  They can make meaning in my life, when no meaning seems to exist.  I know that Andrew is the next beneficiary of my dad’s gift and I hope my stories will be the same source of strength, hope, and joy.  I hope they carry the same message deep into his heart that: “He is loved.  No matter what, he is loved.”

None of my Father’s stories has meant more to our family (or been the cause of more tears) than the one I share today.  If you are a dog lover, best get a box of tissue.   I am fortunate to have grown up with two loving and dedicated parents to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude, but today is Father’s Day and I offer this post as a way to honor the unique gifts my father gave to me.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  I love you.





Glen D. Wilson

I have been running since 1969.  Sometimes I like to run by myself, but it is much more pleasant to run with someone with whom you enjoy passing the day.  I have also traveled much in my career and when jogging from a motel or hotel have joined up with many a jogger who was quite interesting.  The conversation always starts out by asking how long you’ve been running, do you run races, and then it drifts into the health benefits and why a person started, etc.  But, while having run with many interesting people, I never enjoyed the company of anyone as much as I did our family dog, Ranger.

Our family moved to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains outside of Auburn, California, in 1977.  We had four or five cats, a couple of dogs and then one day in 1979 my wife, Carol, brought home this little gray fur ball of a pup.  He was half Husky and half Shepherd and our daughter, Nancy, named him Ranger.  Carol immediately began to obedience train him, and he became a walking companion with us in those beautiful evenings that were so numerous.

As Ranger grew into adulthood, he started running with me, all 90 to 100 pounds of him.  When he was a pup, a dog jumped him and tore off half of one ear, so he was a rather awesome looking sight.  He already looked like a gray wolf, but with half an ear, he looked like a big mean gray wolf.  Ranger, though, was about as docile as any dog that I have ever seen.  He was a constant companion to Nancy who was six years old at the time and, as well as being my running partner, he was also Carol’s running and walking partner and he also put in many a mile with our son, Don, when he came home from college.  When you figure that I averaged about 1200 to 1500 miles a year, Carol about 800 miles a year, and the miles that Don ran when he was home, coupled with our evening walks, Ranger put in one heck of a lot of miles.

I often wondered what would motivate a dog to run without being coaxed the slightest bit.  Yet, day after day, when he saw me put on my jogging shoes, it was all I could do to get them laced while he was trying to coax me out the door.

The beginning of our run was usually a little frenzied, but soon Ranger’s initial burst of energy would slow to a gate that I could keep up with. You have to know what it is like to run through the woods and on the back roads of Auburn early in the morning, or just before dark, to understand the enjoyment and euphoria that we both shared.  Auburn’s winters were generally very mild with some cold days and occasional snow, but the Sierra foothills was a much better place to be than down in the Sacramento Valley where the fog laid in for weeks at a time.  Where we ran, the fog could often be seen like the top of a cloud several hundred feet below us.  In the spring, it was as pretty a place can get with the wild flowers and fresh green grass covering every inch of those hills.  Summer brought an intense dry heat that left you feeling drained, but exhilarated, after a long run. My favorite time of the year, however, was autumn with the leaves changing colors and rustling of the leaves in the cool breezes that gently blew the summer away. Every season had its blessings as well as its curses, but, it seemed liked that dog didn’t care about the weather as long as we were running together.  For that matter, neither did I.

During those years, I had a very high-pressured job and our company was going through much turmoil, which made these runs virtually life saving for me.  While we ran together, I would tell all of my troubles to Ranger and would ask him for his advice.  The looks that I would get back reassured me that everything would be all right as long as we had each other to share this time.  There is no way to describe how much this friend meant to my family, but especially to me.

Ranger was so well disciplined as a runner that he didn’t need a leash; he always stayed right by my left side.  Sometimes he and I would run to the top of a hill and sit there side by side while he listened to me talk.  The looks that I would get said it all.  I know that dog understood what I was saying, but he pretended to be undisturbed about the whole thing.  Once in a while, we would stop for a long cool drink which he always enjoyed, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have complained had we run across the Sahara Desert.  Most evenings, at the end of our run, we would sit on the back deck of our home and look out across a beautiful valley: a perfect end to another perfect day.

Nothing is permanent in life.  In 1984, my company said, “We need you in San Francisco.”  We sold our beautiful place in the country and moved.  As my workload increased, I left for work very early in the morning and often didn’t get home until very late; our runs became less frequent, usually only on the weekends.  I even began running on my lunch hour so poor old Ranger was not having much fun anymore.  In the late evenings as I tried to regain my equilibrium from the day, he would give me long sad looks as if to say, “When are we going to get back on schedule?”   Carol had also returned to full-time employment so even Ranger’s walks with her were curtailed. Runners who run with their dogs will understand the guilt I felt as I watched Ranger lose muscle and become “deconditioned.” It wasn’t too many years later when Ranger was eleven years old that we had to put him on medication for arthritic pain.   Even though his legs would get stiff and it would be hard for him to get up and down, just the sight of a running shoe would get him excited about going on a walk or run he could no longer endure.

Christmas of 1989 turned out to be Ranger’s last Christmas and a very sad one in the lives of our whole family.  There just wasn’t any way that we could let Ranger continue to suffer with so much pain.  I knew I had to be the one to take this last step with him.

This was the hardest moment of my life.  I felt like a murderer, but I knew that it should be done rather than letting him suffer any longer.

I was going to borrow a friend’s truck to give Ranger a ride to the vet’s office when it suddenly dawned on me that Ranger would like to go for a run.  I put on my jogging shoes and saw the old sparkle in his eyes as he leapt up as if to say, “Don’t worry about my pain, I’m ready to go.”  It was three miles to the vet’s office and we took off walking.  It was a beautiful day and as we walked, Ranger seemed to loosen up and let me know it by the proud way he perked up his one and half ears.  I said, “Do you want to run a bit, fella?” and, you know the answer.  We ran.  He was running so well that I started to think that maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.  I was really having second thoughts about this task.  Could it be that he was trying to tell me something? I almost talked myself into returning home with him, but I knew by evening, his pain would be so much that he wouldn’t be able to move.  On the other hand, if we followed through with the task at hand, he would be resting in peace with all pain gone from his body.

As we approached the vet’s office, I became very sick inside and had to stop and walk.  To this day I believe that he understood what was happening.  When we arrived at the vet’s, I decided to just sit outside with him on the curb and talk like we used to.  I thought to myself, “If you look at me with those beautiful doggy eyes as you have in the last eleven years, I will just die.”  Oddly enough, he just sat there and looked straight ahead, proud, with his tongue hanging out as he often used to do when we would finish a 10 or 15 mile run.  I know that he was trying to make it easy for me and he did, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Finally, I knew that I couldn’t sit there all day, so we slowly made our way into the vet’s office.  Now something amazing happened.  Always from the day that he was a pup, he would start shaking when going into the vet’s office.  On this day, he walked into the office as if it were his second home.  I asked the young woman who received him to give him a drink, which she did.  He was as calm as I had ever seen him.  He just stood there looking straight ahead as if this were an everyday occurrence.  I knew that I had to get out of there fast because I didn’t want everybody in the place see a grown 55-year-old man cry like a baby.  I said, “Goodbye old friend,” and turned and walked out as fast as I could.

I made it to the telephone booth on the corner, flung myself inside it and cried violently.  Eventually, I called Carol and told her to come pick me up.  By the time she arrived, I had outwardly recovered. Inwardly, I felt a loss that would last for years. I can still feel that sadness when I think of my old friend, but then I can’t help but smile because I’m remembering one of the most pleasant experiences of my life, RUNNING WITH MY PAL RANGER.

Even today, whenever I see other joggers with their dogs, my heart does a little flip, and I look up to the sky to see if I might see him romping across the heavens because I know he is up there just waiting to take me on another run.

Ranger with pal in his later years



Yes, it's just as good as it looks!

Oven “Barbecued” Spareribs

There are so many meals and dishes that I associate with my father and the truth is that barbecued spareribs isn’t one of them.  However, if you were to ask Andrew what meal reminds him of Grandpa, I know he would say, “Famous Dave’s Ribs!”  Every time Andrew goes to visit, it always includes at least one trip to Famous Dave’s and at least one home-cooked sparerib meal.  I can’t call this recipe a true barbecue, because I would never be allowed in the True Barbecue Club of America if I advocated for pre-blanching prior to the grill.   However, this is how I can have a great meal done in a very short time after a busy day at work.  I make these after my adopted farm “Healthy Family Farm” out of Ojai, California, butchers a pig and I can call dibs on a couple of pounds before anybody else does!  Andrew may be playing nice, but he says he likes these as much as Famous Dave’s.

This recipe can easily be started the night before you plan to serve it, which makes for a very fast meal the following day.  This recipe is based on a recipe found in Barbara KafKa’s brilliant book Roasting, A Simple Art and recipes found in my grandmother’s recipe cards.

Blanching Liquid

6 or 7 cups of water

¼ cup tomato paste

Two small onions, sliced

4 or 5 cloves garlic, chopped (we always opt for more garlic)

½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

4 whole cloves

2 tablespoons habanero pepper sauce (I like El Yucateca.  If you can’t find habanero, use any red or green pepper sauce such as Crystal or Tabasco)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon Juice

5 to 8 anchovies


Approximately 2 to 2 ½ lbs rack of ribs cut in two sections or two smaller racks of equal weight.


Barbecue Sauce

4 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

A dash of hot sauce if you desire a spicier sauce

Place all the blanching ingredients in a saucepan large enough to hold the ribs.  Bring ingredients to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the ribs; make sure they are covered with liquid and cook at a simmer for 45 minutes.  The blanching sauce may smell a bit of anchovies, but the finished product won’t.  Add water as needed to keep the ribs covered.  I always have a hard time keeping the ribs completely covered and if you do also, just turn them occasionally to make sure they get cooked thoroughly.  (At this point, I cool them off and refrigerate until ready to use the following night.)

Place at least two cups of blanching liquid in a saucepan and boil until reduced by half.  Add the glaze ingredients and cook over low heat until everything is well combined.  Use some of the barbecue sauce to glaze the ribs before cooking them.

Preheat the oven to 500, place ribs in a roasting pan or on a jellyroll cookie sheet and cook the underside for 5 minutes.  Turn the ribs, baste with more sauce, and cook for an additional 6 or 7 minutes.

Serve the additional sauce at the table.

This should feed a family of four, unless one of them is Andrew.














Erin June 20, 2011 at 4:23 am

Don, those look scrummy!
Thanks for mention (Healthy Family Farms ribs)!

Loving your blog…

Jay June 22, 2011 at 2:14 am

Great Blog… SingleDad adopted my son from fostercare @ 9 14 now. I may have missed it, but did you adopt Andrew? Or is he still in foster with you?

John Ireland June 25, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Such a moving story about Ranger! As I was wiping away my tears reading this, our beagle came in from the other room and curled up against my barefoot feet. While we do not run together, he does stay close–there is a quiet bond of proximity I had not thought much about before reading your dad’s story. Thanks for sharing.

Joanna June 30, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Brings back great memories of Ranger! He was an amazing dog!

Oh, the ribs look great too!

Previous post:

Next post: