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Category Archives: Family

An irrestible urge . . .

I found an image online that infused me with an irresistible urge to tell an off-color joke as a posting, one that would definitely be condemned by my mother’s family. All have crossed the River Styx, the stream that separates the living from those who have made the crossing, the latter of which includes my parents’ entire family, except for me, of course. Those who have gone before were my mother, father, one brother, five sisters, and a stepfather that I feel obligated to mention. Of the total of  ten people in the family I am the only one still standing, and I’m hanging on for dear life.

Yes, life is dear to me in spite of the loss of family members, the political upheavals across the earth, the present declination of our country and its position and importance among the world’s nations, and in spite of the price of gasoline, movie tickets, popcorn and garlic bologna. In the words of an old song, “Please, Mister Custer, I don’t wanna go!”

In telling this joke I would be chastised by all except my brother and my youngest sister. Both enjoyed jokes, especially my brother, but my sister took an interminable amount of time in the telling. I believe she did that in order to dominate any conversation—to stay on stage, so to speak.

The image below is that of our current president speaking to an audience, accompanied by a woman signing his words for the benefit of those in his audience that are hard-of-hearing. Please trust me when I say that the image includes the off-color punch-line of the joke—it’s hidden, but it’s there. On the off-chance that the punch-line escapes you, I’ll will happily forward it to you in a brown-paper-wrapped e-mail.

The honeymoon was over and the newly-weds, a well-seasoned world-traveler and a sweet young thing unwise in the ways of the world, were beginning their new lives together. They were at breakfast and just before the husband left for work he asked his wife to practice a certain action that she steadfastly refused to perform throughout the honeymoon, explaining that she had never done that and knew not how to do it or even begin to do it. He suggested that she practice the act with the ketchup bottle during the day. She loved her husband and wanted to please him and she promised to comply. She practiced the action throughout the day, performed it obediently that night and promised to willingly and happily comply with future requests, and the couple lived happily ever after.

Postscript: On November 18, 2010 a unique lady, lovely in every mental and physical respect, beautifully loved and loving, crossed over the River Styx.  We would have celebrated 58 years of marriage just 25 days later on 13 December, and her eightieth birthday on 26 December. She was and still is my wife Janie, a Georgia peach that I married in 1952. For awhile after her death, life was not dear to me, but I feel that I have overcome most of the sadness that the death of a loved one can create—not all, but enough to feel that life is still good and that happiness has many facets—one needs but search for it in different ways and in different places.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in death, disease, Family, Humor, Writing

 

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.22 shorts, Indians, desperadoes & turkeys . . .

Papa John, my step-father, placed little emphasis on the yuletide season, whether regarding religion and the birth of Christ or on the spirit of giving at Christmas time. I can only remember two gifts he gave me.  I posted the story of his promise to my sister and me that he would get us a dog for Christmas, and how he kept his promise. Click here to read about that memorable Christmas. It’s a sad story, sadder even than that of Tiny Tim Cratchet in Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol—well, not really that sad, but it was memorable.

We lived on a small farm in Mississippi for a year or so, just long enough to sell off the cotton and a bit of timber, enough to give our stepfather a grubstake to return to a life to which he had become accustomed before marrying into our family. With the money in his pocket, he only needed to create a situation that would infuriate him enough to rid himself of the albatross around his neck, namely my mother, my sister and me. Click here for that merry tale, a story of violence and threats, including me and my sister racing to gain a hiding place and safety in the woods.

The only other Christmas gift my stepfather gave me over the seven years I lived with him, on-and-off for varying periods of time, was a .22 caliber Remington rifle in as-new condition, having been restored by a gunsmith. The wooden stock had been refinished and the metal parts re-blued. He also handed me a box of fifty .22-short rifle bullets. If you should ever have to be shot with a .22 caliber weapon, opt for the short bullet. Its casing is shorter than 22-long bullets and thus has less powder to propel the lead or copper tip.

In my boyhood I devoured the stories told in books by Zane Grey and James Fenimore Cooper. At an age somewhere between eleven and twelve years and with that rifle in my hands I became Natty Bumppo—Hawkeye—the protagonist in The Last of the Mohicans, moving silently but swiftly through the virgin Eastern forests, unseen and unheard, avoiding every twig, bush or loose stone that might reveal my presence to the wily Hurons bent on lifting my scalp, all the while protecting the white women that the author felt that renegade Indians coveted for whatever nefarious purposes.

I was also in pursuit of desperadoes, violent and dangerous men as depicted by Zane Grey including bank robbers, cattle rustlers, horse thieves and those that at one time or another had neglected to tip their hat on meeting genteel ladies on the wooden sidewalks in western frontier towns, nor did they step aside to the muddy street to allow the long-skirted ladies safe passage—the ladies were therefore required to raise their skirts to avoid the mud, thus revealing their ankles to the salacious men by deferring to them and stepping off the boardwalk into the muddy street—bummer.

As President George Herbert Walker Bush—Bush #1—might say, shortly after receiving the rifle I was in deep you know what—I was in a lot of trouble. Unknown to me at the time, our neighbors on our right some mile or so distant raised turkeys for the market. As I prowled through the forest in that direction looking for Indians or rustlers or bank robbers, I came upon a clearing with a dead tree in its center, stripped of its leaves and its branches festooned with turkeys. Since I had found them in the forest I immediately deduced that they were wild turkeys and commenced firing with the intent of putting meat on the table for my family, starving after a meager crop, with no money and a dearth of wild animals for food.

My turkey rifle was a single shot, and my stepfather had told me to never carry a loaded rifle, to load it when I was ready to shoot at something. This involved pulling back the bolt, digging a cartridge out of my pocket, inserting the cartridge into the barrel, closing and locking the bolt, then pulling back the firing pin and locking it into position to fire. Only then should the weapon be aimed and the trigger be pulled to release the firing pin that strikes the shell and ignites the powder, providing the force to propel the missile to, or at least in the direction of the target. My rifle was definitely not a rapid-fire weapon, and that feature probably saved me from disaster.

I laboriously reloaded after the first shot—the turkey I had aimed at did not seem to be adversely affected, so I took my second shot at a different bird. That turkey also seemed impervious to the bullet, but I was denied a third shot, whether at him or one of the others. I was in the process of reloading for a third shot when the owner of the turkeys entered the scene, running and shouting for me to stop shooting his turkeys.

I didn’t know that our neighbors had changed from a white family with a passel of kids, one of them a beautiful red-haired cross-eyed girl about my age, but a young girl that had all the attributes of a mature woman, or at least all the visible attributes of a mature woman. A black family was now living on the farm—yes, that’s what we called African-Americans back in the olden days—and the turkey-farmer was big and moving swiftly in my direction, shouting at me to stop shooting, so I wisely matched his speed in the opposite direction and headed for home as fast as my bare feet could carry me.

I never knew whether my bullets struck either of my turkey targets. I would hope that I missed completely, but I was afraid to ask my stepfather. I told him about my error in thinking the turkeys were wild, and he just laughed, then went into a long discourse on the use of firearms and safety after telling me that there were no wild turkeys in that part of the state.

I don’t know whether the neighbor ever came to our house to talk to my stepfather, or whether my stepfather went to his house. I have my doubts that either happened. As for my hunting efforts with my rifle, I never again went toward the turkey farm, with or without my rifle—I had lost most of my attraction for shooting at anything, whether animal, vegetable, mineral or otherwise.

The rifle is in my possession now. In the early days of our marriage, I used it for collateral to get enough money to buy gasoline for our 250 mile trip home from visiting my wife’s relatives. Many years later my brother-in-law returned the rifle to me for the exact amount of the collateral—five dollars. I realize that doesn’t sound like much, but gas was only 22 cents a gallon in 1954.

I treasure that rifle. I treasure it so much that it’s stripped down into three pieces, stock, barrel and bolt, and stored in three different places in my home.  Finding all three pieces would be a daunting task for a burglar—in fact, I’m not sure that I can find them—and should an intruder enter while the house is occupied the task would be even more laborious and completely unneccessary because I have a veritable arsenal of weapons readily available for such an occasion, as do most patriotic and conscientious citizens in my neck of the woods.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
 

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In defense of Aggies . . .

Let’s hear it for the Aggies!

Let’s hear it for those stalwarts that are presently in attendance at Texas A&M University, for those that have been graduated by that school and for those that were prematurely tossed out for various but completely understandable reasons—faults such as a predilection for unnatural communion with small animals, for example, or for failure to attend at least seven percent of required classes over a period of six years, failure to achieve a solid D average over the same period, and failure to qualify for an undergraduate bachelor degree in fewer than eight years.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for the Aggies. I don’t believe they deserve the fusillade of stones and arrows that rain down on them from all points of the globe and from persons in all walks of life—well, perhaps some deserve such treatment, maybe—okay, perhaps most deserve such treatment, but certainly not all—there must be at least a few good apples in the Aggie barrel.

Aggies are the abject targets of social discrimination. Apparently they don’t teach sociology at Texas A & M, because any group that wishes to protect itself from discrimination has only to declare itself as a minority and document the discrimination—properly documented, the Aggies would be a shoo-in for designation as a minority and thereby entitled to all the privileges and benefits thereof.

Their request for minority status and freedom from discrimination should include the jillions of jokes—love that alliteration—that target the Aggies, jokes that in large measure have been converted from jokes aimed at other so-called minorities. The Aggies need only to believe that they are the victims of discrimination, declare themselves a minority, express that belief and then document the discrimination.

How easy is that!

And on the same subject and using that same sociological definition of what constitutes a minority and discrimination, I suggest that white folks—I favor that term over hill billies, whities, white trash, honkies, gringos, rednecks and trailer trash—identify themselves as a sociological minority and claim discrimination. It really doesn’t matter whether they are or are not the victims of discrimination, nor does it matter that they constitute a majority of the US population. Discrimination does not depend on population—read on.

The 2009 population figures show a total US population of 307 million, and whites alone constitute 65% of that total even after excluding the 30 million White Hispanics and Latino Americans in the population. Whites only are obviously not a minority in numbers, but the sociological definition requires only that a group believes itself to be discriminated against, expresses that belief, and documents the discrimination and that definition is satisfied—it does not depend on the number of people in the minority group.

Come on, all you Aggies! Get your stuff together and force us to pick on some other group—unwed fathers, for example, or maybe cross-dressing homeless Lower Slobovian refugees. The current hordes of wannabes clamoring for attention as potential candidates for the presidency of the United States of America under the GOP banner would be an ideal target to replace the proud present and past people—there’s that alliteration again—-with ties to Texas’ Agricultural and Mechanical University, the state’s first public institution of higher education, established by the Texas state legislature ‘way back in April of 1871.

What follows next is a joke that includes some suggestions for replacements that qualify as targets for jokes in order to reduce the pressure on Aggies. For example, you might ask someone, Didja hear about the two community organizers that, blah, blah, blah?

Now for the joke:

Have you heard the one about the two (at this point insert political independents, republicans, democrats, communists, activists, community organizers, socialists, old maids or other persons) discussing the weather?

First person: It’s going to rain.

Second person: How do you know?

First person: My instincts.

Second person: My end stinks too, but it doesn’t predict the weather, rain or otherwise.

Click here for the original posting, dated 26 Feb 2011, that featured the instinct joke. In that one I used two little morons for the joke. There is some highly cogent political posturing included in that posting, so I’ll apologize in advance for that.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Listen up, Rachel Maddow—learn your possessives!

I voluntarily submitted myself to the excruciating torture of watching your show yesterday, June 3, 2011 and during your coverage of John Edwards’ current trials and tribulations I started counting the times you mispronounced John Edwards’ name. When you needed to show possession, without a single exception you pronounced his name as Edwardses, and somewhere around twenty I stopped counting, primarily because I ran out of fingers and toes.

Please note that I did not use an apostrophe in the word Edwardses in that last sentence—it’s impossible for a listener to detect the presence or the absence of an apostrophe in such usage. It may or may not have been present in the mind-numbing number of times you voiced it. With an apostrophe the word Edwards’es, or Edwards’s, is a violation of English usage—without an apostrophe Edwardses is a good word, forming the plural of the Edwards family, as in The Edwardses embarked on a family vacation aboard the Queen Elizabeth—I refer to the ocean liner, of course, not to the current royal monarch.

And no, in answer to the question that is probably forming in your mind one would not, or at least should not, identify the entire family as the Edwardss—the plural requires the es—that’s what makes it plural. Got it?

The es added to Edwards tells us that the whole famn damily went on vacation aboard the QE2. Based on that example, I would hazard a guess that each time you used the term it would be spelled thusly—Edwards’es—but I could be wrong. Words that end in an s are made possessive by the addition of an apostrophe only, not by an apostrophe and s, nor by the addition of an apostrophe and es.

Jumping Jehosaphat, Rachel! Even Sarah Palin knows that! If you were reading a teleprompter last night, I suggest that you fire the worker that compiled it, and if you were winging it I urge you to enroll in English 101—both you and your viewers will profit.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Revisit: Words to live by—Lean on me . . .

The purpose of this posting is to share, with anyone and everyone who happens to pass this way, the beautiful thoughts expressed by Samuel Ullman in his poem Youth, excerpts of which appeared recently on Refdesk as the THOUGHT OF THE DAY. The posting is also a recommendation for Refdesk as a home page. Refdesk has an astonishing range—it has never failed me in my searches, regardless of their purpose. Donations to Refdesk are welcomed, but otherwise the service is free!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY:

“Youth is not a time of life—it is a state of mind. It is not a matter of red cheeks, red lips and supple knees. It is a temper of the will; a quality of the imagination; a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life. Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease. This often exists in a man of fifty, more than in a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals.” – Samuel Ullman

Here is the poem in its entirety:

Youth, by Samuel Ullman:

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

A brief biography of Ullman (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia):

Samuel Ullman (April 13, 1840 – March 21, 1924) was an American businessman, poet, humanitarian. He is best known today for his poem Youth which was a favorite of General Douglas MacArthur. The poem was on the wall of his office in Tokyo when he became Supreme Allied Commander in Japan. In addition, he often quoted from the poem in his speeches, leading to it becoming better known in Japan than in the United States.

Born in 1840 at Hechingen, Germany to Jewish parents, Ullman immigrated with his family to America to escape discrimination at the age of eleven. The Ullman family settled in Port Gibson, Mississippi. After briefly serving in the Confederate Army, he became a resident of Natchez, Mississippi. There, Ullman married, started a business, served as a city alderman, and was a member of the local board of education.

In 1884, Ullman moved to the young city of Birmingham, Alabama, and was immediately placed on the city’s first board of education.

During his eighteen years of service, he advocated educational benefits for black children similar to those provided for whites. In addition to his numerous community activities, Ullman also served as president and then lay rabbi of the city’s reform congregation at Temple Emanu-El. Often controversial but always respected, Ullman left his mark on the religious, educational, and community life of Natchez and Birmingham.

In his retirement, Ullman found more time for one of his favorite passions – writing letters, essays and poetry. His poems and poetic essays cover subjects as varied as love, nature, religion, family, the hurried lifestyle of a friend, and living “young.” It was General Douglas MacArthur who facilitated Ullman’s popularity as a poet – he hung a framed copy of a version of Ullman’s poem “Youth” on the wall of his office in Tokyo and often quoted from the poem in his speeches. Through MacArthur’s influence, the people of Japan discovered “Youth” and became curious about the poem’s author.

In 1924, Ullman died in Birmingham, Alabama.

In 1994, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Japan-America Society of Alabama opened the Samuel Ullman Museum in Birmingham’s Southside neighborhood. The museum is located in the former Ullman residence and is operated by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In my not very humble opinion, this is one of the most beautiful songs ever written (title and chorus are in bold italics):

Lean on Me
Sometimes in our lives
we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don’t let show

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

So just call on me brother,
when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that
you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on.

Lean on me . . .

All lyrics are property and copyright Bill Withers.

That’s my story and I”m sticking to it.

 

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Revisit: Ancient bridges in France . . .

I posted this classic presentation of classic French architecture some eight months ago in August of 2010. During that eight months the posting has garnered a total of zero comments. Less than one minute of online research reveals that in the United States there are approximately 120,000 professional architects, yet apparently not even one has seen this posting. Click here for demographic data on American architects.

I am bringing this posting up from and out of the Stygian darkness of prior efforts, exposing its prose and its images of classic architecture to the bright light of today. I find it difficult to believe that any architect could have seen the images and read the text, then failed to comment on the posting, no matter whether pro or con. In fact, I am related to a very successful architect that lives, loves and labors in his chosen profession in the great state of Mississippi and follows my feeble efforts to contribute in some small way to civilization’s accumulation of writings and even he, the nephew of his only extant maternal uncle, either has not seen the posting or else felt that it deserved no comment. Bummer!

Ancient bridges in France

There are many antique bridges in France, some dating back to the days of the Roman empire. This posting will show some of the best preserved structures in France, images that were sent to me several years ago by an online friend, and I felt that they were worth passing on to my viewers. I am posting the images as I received them, without any effort to change them in any way. I could easily have taken the first image into Photoshop and removed the drifts of wood against the bridge, but I chose to post the image exactly as I received it. I applied that same rationale to the second image also.

Judging by the driftwood piled up against the supports, there has been a lot of water under this bridge. If the driftwood is allowed to collect there the bridge could easily be damaged by the weight of the limbs—it deserves better care than it is receiving.

This bridge is a beautiful example of French construction. Note the gracefully rounded arches, masterfully designed and beautifully buttressed to support traffic. Note the clean graceful lines of the structure, all its components combined to form an outstanding example of French architecture. In this image as in the first image, I chose to not remove any material that might possibly block a viewer’s line of sight or detract from the study of this magnificent structure. This is a classical example of French architecture, construction at its pinnacle. I trust that this structure will be better cared for than the bridge shown in the first image.

A special note: The image can be enlarged with a click of the mouse, allowing a greater appreciation of this classic example of French architecture. The enlargement makes the image appear more three-dimensional and better reveals the graceful, even sinuous symmetry of the forms. Wikipedia defines the axis of symmetry of a two-dimensional figure as a line such that, if a perpendicular is constructed, any two points lying on the perpendicular at equal distances from the axis of symmetry are identical. Another way to think about it is that if the shape were to be folded in half over the axis, the two halves would be identical: the two halves are each other’s mirror image. If the scene could be viewed in true 3-D or even better, observed on-site, one can only imagine how spectacular that would be. Just think about it!

Vive la France!

FYI-This posting is in honor of a dear friend that recently died, a cheeky lady from England that lived and loved and birthed five children while living and loving in Great Britain with her US military husband, then lived and loved with her family in San Antonio for another 45 years or so. Knowing that I was an aficionado of ancient bridges, she e-mailed the lower image to me several years ago in a message titled Ancient Bridge in France, and I carefully filed it away with similar images of ancient bridges.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Postscript: In revisiting this posting I noticed something that I overlooked in the original. Six arches, each of 180 degrees can be seen in the second image, but only now I note at least five additional arches lending support to the crossing, the round dark holes between each pair of the arches extending down to the water, each consisting of a full 360 degrees. Each group of three arches seem to conjure up thoughts of giant birds in flight, or gargantuan spiders waiting to pounce, and without arduous strain on one’s imagination, even concupiscent images when combined with the flora and fauna visible in the foreground.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in bridge, bridges, Family, friends, Humor, marriage

 

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Don’t leave me alone . . .

Special note to the reader: In this posting and in many others on my blog, you will find considerable details concerning disease and medical treatment over a period of many years, and considerable information on personal feelings. Please understand that my postings on WordPress form at least a semblance of an autobiography—they are written and presented primarily as a sort of history for my three daughters. WordPress offers an outlet for me to say those things that are very difficult for me to express, but as an autobiography I am able to achieve far more depth than in face-to-face interviews with my children. Everything I write has, at the very least, a nucleus of truth to hold it together, sometimes a bit embellished but always based on facts. I tend to ramble, but with care my readers should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

This posting closes with a poem, poignant in its message but untitled by the author. Had I written the poem I would have given it the same title I used for this posting: Don’t leave me alone.

In late 1999 Janie—my wife, my love, my life—was diagnosed with Stage Two ovarian cancer. She was 68 years old at the time, and although the statistics for survival were not in her favor she refused to bow to the disease, but continued living and loving life for eleven more years. The photo at right was taken in the fall of 1983 at Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC. We celebrated her 52nd birthday in December of that year.

Her life was dramatically changed following the diagnosis, of course. She embarked on an eleven year journey, a grueling period punctuated with several major invasive surgeries requiring lengthy hospital stays, several rounds of chemotherapy, numerous X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, MRIs, blood draws, urine samples, frequent physical exams, trips to emergency rooms and brief hospital stays.

Throughout those years she held steadfast to her faith, enjoying life and considering each return of the disease comparable to the speed bumps found on city streets, each simply requiring a brief slow-down and then a return to normal speed, a return to living life and loving it. During periods of remission she frequently voiced her pleasure with life, saying “We have a good life.”

Seven years after the initial diagnosis of cancer and successfully holding the beast at bay, she was diagnosed with kidney disease, a complication probably caused mostly by the several series of chemotherapy she endured. The kidney disease progressed and she eventually required dialysis, a treatment that necessitated several more surgeries to place access ports for the dialysis needles, first in the chest while access in her arm was maturing.

My wife of 58 years, the mother of our three daughters, died at 9:15 PM on November 18, 2010 from complications of ovarian cancer and renal failure. We would have completed our fifty-eighth wedding anniversary just 25 days later on 13 December, and she would have celebrated her seventy-ninth birthday on the twenty-sixth day of December, one day after Christmas.

The eighteenth day of this month will mark the sixth month since she died, and the grief I feel—the loneliness, the heartache and the miserable feeling of being alone has flowed and ebbed with the tides of time. My daughters and friends have been stalwart pillars of support, even though rebuffed in those numerous instances in which my pity party was in full swing—and to my shame I admit that many times I have lashed out at them, desperately seeking someone or something on which to place the blame, or at least to share the blame with me.

I am constantly advised to remember all the good things I’ve done over the years, but I seem to be stuck in the ultimate low gear of self-blame. During my years of being gainfully employed I frequently spent long periods away from home, traveling all over the United States and other countries, and no matter how hard I tried I remembered all the things that I had done wrong and all the things that I should have done but failed to do. I’m reasonably certain that good things happened, but I had difficulty focusing on them, and now that I’m alone I’m still stuck in the same low gear.

I know, I know. There is a saying which tells us that one who represents one’s self in court has a fool for a lawyer. That same bromide can be applied to most attempts at self-analysis—in such situations one cannot see the forest for the trees, and ultimately help must come from someone looking in from outside the forest.

A hoary joke involves a drunk hurrying home late in the night, and in crossing his front yard he walks into a tree, the only one on the lot. He makes several attempts but runs into the tree each time. On the ground and stunned, he is heard to mumble, “Well, I may as well face it—I’m lost in a thick forest.”

In many ways I am like that drunk, although I am a teetotaler. I am lost in a thick forest of self-analysis and self-pity, frantically seeking someone to blame for anything and everything. Impractical and patently unfair, but it involves something psychiatrists term projection—we tend to project our faults into others, and then we criticize them rather than criticizing ourselves.

My neighbors to the west have been tremendously supportive during this transition period. The lady of the house recommended several online locations that she felt might help me in overcoming grief, or at the very least might help me learn to live with grief. All were helpful but one towered over the rest.

The following poem concludes a lengthy contribution to the Living With Loss magazine. I feel that in her poem the author gives sage advice that can apply to any grief situation, including mine.

From the introduction to the author’s essay: “. . . . although its subject matter is the loss of a child, it reveals commonality in grief such as the changes in the way survivors view the world and in the way the world views survivors, regardless of the loss.” Click here to read the complete essay and be warned—have a plentiful supply of tissues ready!

This is the author’s untitled poem:

Don’t tell me that you understand,
Don’t tell me that you know.
Don’t tell me that I will survive,
How I will surely grow.

Don’t tell me this is just a test,
That I am truly blessed,
That I am chosen for this task,
Apart from all the rest.

Don’t come at me with answers
That can only come from me,
Don’t tell me how my grief will pass
That I will soon be free.

Don’t stand in pious judgment
Of the bonds I must untie,
Don’t tell me how to suffer,
And don’t tell me how to cry.

My life is filled with selfishness,
My pain is all I see,
But I need you, I need your love,
Unconditionally.

Accept me in my ups and downs,
I need someone to share,
Just hold my hand and let me cry,
And say, “My friend, I care.”

Joanetta Hendel, author
Living With Loss Magazine
Bereavement Publications, Inc.
October 1988

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on May 13, 2011 in disease, Family, funeral

 

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Revisited: Long necks, fast food, good health & long life . . .

Once again on reviewing past postings I was so impressed with my writing that I am reposting a narrative from February of this year. The posting was apparently unread, or perhaps read and misunderstood by the readers. That posting was an effort on my part to assist Michelle Obama, our First Lady, in her drive to improve health in the United States, particularly in our school children. Oh, that’s the United States of America, a designation that is always voiced by Michelle’s husband in order for us to distinguish our nation from the United States of the Mid-east, of South America, of Central America, of Canadian America and of Lower Slobovia. I submit that the addition of America is not necessary, and its addition could perhaps cause confusion in his listeners, especially since a factual United States of America would include Canada, Central America, South America, and of course the United States of Mexico since it is geographically located in the chain of Americas. I grant you that the distinction is growing dim because of the continuing invasion of Mexican citizens sloughing off the chains of their native country.

Long necks, fast food, good health & long life . . .

A blogger in Virginia is posting photographs of people that lived a century or more in the past. Click here to see how folks looked and lived in those years. You’ll find your visit interesting and highly educational. As an added attraction, you will be exposed to some brilliant photography of the present, particularly of our planet’s flora and fauna.

However, there is something missing in the blogger’s photos of folks that lived far back in time, something to which neither the blogger nor any of her viewers have called attention, so that task obviously falls to me. I pondered long and strong on the subject, and this posting is the result of my research. See how many fat-necks you can find in these photos—possibly one, the man in the photo at top left—but certainly no more than one.


There is an obvious dearth of girth in the subjects being photographed—please forgive me for the pun, but I would appreciate a salute for my creation of the term dearth of girth, pun though it may be—I probably should have it copyrighted in the interests of gaining remuneration for my efforts. The photos above are a sample of photos showing the lack of girth in the photographer’s subjects.

These photos of people from the past show more long-necks than Texas’ Lone Star Brewery—other than the possible exception noted, there is not a fat-neck in the batch. Having noted that, I embarked on a seriously studious search for a cause-and-effect for the lack of fat-necks and the overall dearth of girth, and I documented that which most people already know in their hearts and minds, but their stomachs won’t let them admit it.

The cause is the plethora of ubiquitous fast-food outlets, and the effect is pure fat. We go into the front door of those so-called restaurants skinny, and come out the side door fat. We are labeled by others with terms ranging from ample or pleasantly plump to heavy, large, overweight, huge, obese, blimp, lard-butt, lard-ass, fat-ass, morbidly obese and myriad other terms, but they can all be summed up with a single three-letter word:

FAT!

Take a quick look at a list of fast-food restaurants provided by Wikipedia. Please note that these are international chains, and the list does not include local non-international fast-food outlets, nor does it include fast-casual restaurants, coffeehouses, ice cream parlors or pizzerias.

A&W Restaurants, Arby’s, Arctic Circle Restaurants, Au Bon Pain, Blimpie, Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Burger King, Hungry Jack’s (Australia), Camille’s Sidewalk Café, Captain D’s, Carl’s Jr., Charley’s Grilled Subs, Checkers, Chester’s International, Chicken Cottage, Chicken Delight, Chicken Licken, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Church’s Chicken, Chowking, Culver’s, Dairy Queen, Del Taco, Dixy Chicken, Duchess, Dunkin’ Donuts, Hardee’s, Hesburger, Jamba Juice, Jollibee, KFC, Krispy Kreme, Little Caesars, Vegetarian Moe’s, Southwest Grill, Mr. Hero, New York Fries, Noble Roman’s, Panda Express, Panera Bread, Pollo Tropical, Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits, Pret A Manger, Quick, Quickly, Quiznos, RaisingCane’s Chicken, Fingers, Rally’s, Red Rooster, Sonic Drive-In, Subway, Taco Bell, Taco Bueno, Taco Cabana, Taco del Mar, Taco Tico, Taco Time, Tim Hortons, Vapiano, White Spot, Wendy’s, Wendy’s Supa Sundaes, Whataburger.

Hey, let’s be honest. Let’s be honest and admit that everyone of us in the United States—whether citizens, legal aliens, illegal aliens, vacationing foreigners or visitors from other planets—are up to our collective fat asses in fast-food outlets.

Such outlets should be outlawed. It can be done, and we have almost two years to persuade people to prepare the necessary documents for such action. Congress should write a 2,800-page law and push it through the House of Representatives—for that it may be necessary to reinstate Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker—then on through the Senate and over to the White House for President Michelle Obama’s signature. That lady is a shoo-in for the 2012 elections and she will sign it—trust me!

Let’s do it! Let’s eliminate fast-food outlets! We can do it! We can slim our population down to match the subjects in this blogger’s photos. We’ll all be slim, hale and hearty and live to the century mark and more.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Revisit: The day I lost my marbles . . .

I originally posted this story in July of 2010. I came across it while browsing today and enjoyed it so much that I decided to share it with the multitudes of people that overlooked it. I know they overlooked it because it garnered only one comment and that was from a lovely lady that lives in Montgomery, and she probably felt compelled to comment because she is my niece and I am the only surviving uncle from her mother’s side of the family. Actually, if I were a female I would be the only surviving aunt from her mother’s family—yep, of the original seven children I am the last one standing, and yes, I’m a bit lonely!

This is an intriguing—albeit rather sad—tale of one small boy’s attempt to establish and cement friendship and perhaps help to promote cordiality between races in the deep South at a time long before the marches between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama and long before civil rights legislation was passed by Congress. Well, alright, I confess that I was also trying to add to my collection of marbles and because of my politically incorrect older sister I failed miserably, and instead found my collection reduced by a significant number, including some of my favorite pieces. Bummer!

The day I lost my marbles

Many years ago in Columbus, Mississippi on the corner of Fourth Street South and Ninth Avenue South there was a large colonial style two-story house with stately columns and a balcony, a house converted into apartments during World War II to accommodate the influx of military personnel from Columbus Air Force Base, a pilot training center. I haven’t been in that section of town for many years—it may still be standing, or it may have been razed and a modern brick structure erected on that lot.

I lived there for several months with my mother, my youngest sister Dot—short for Doris—and my stepfather. Jessie, my oldest sister, also lived there in a one-room apartment that shared a bathroom with another tenant. That house holds many memories for me, several of which I have posted on my blog—some of those memories are pleasant and some are not so pleasant. Click here to read about The tomato tempest, a story that includes a visit to Alabama, a sharecropper family, a suicide, an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol, a recalcitrant young girl and a stepfather with a vicious temper.

The house was only two or three blocks from a section of the city that was called by many names, mostly names that are not used in polite society today. In these modern times of political correctness, certain words are voiced only by their first letter and the word word added, as in the N-word or the F-word or the R-word—the R stands for Republican, a word that some are reluctant to use in fear that they will looked upon as such.

I suppose that in today’s parlance, the neighborhood just beyond where I lived as a boy would be referred to as N-town, an area primarily comprised of black families—the term African-American was unknown then, unknown at least in the circles in which I moved. I’ve never understood the rationale for expressing something like that—if it is true that the thought is as bad as the deed, then saying the N-word instead of the actual word in nothing more than an attempt to cover up the real word, and it’s not covered up—try it—just say the N-word to yourself and check the mental image it creates, both in the speaker and the listener. Let’s face it—it’s a cop out—if you’re going to think it, you might as well say it.

I knew only one person that lived in N-town, a black lady that came to the house every weekday to care for my niece, Jessie’s young daughter, then just a toddler. Millie also cleaned, cooked and ironed for Jessie over a period of many years at several different locations in the city. I never knew Millie’s last name—we simply called her Millie, possibly the diminutive form of Millicent. An unmarried lady, she lived with her family just a short walk from our house. I vividly remember numerous Saturday nights when Dot and I walked with Jessie and our mother to Millie’s house. Jessie and our mother, along with Millie and her mother formed a quartet and sang church hymns, A Capella, all the old favorites and they sometimes belted out fast-paced tunes that contrasted sharply with the well-known songs—I suppose they were songs popular at the time—pop tunes, so to speak.

The group stayed in the house in inclement weather and neighbors came and sat and listened, and in fair weather they formed on the front porch and neighbors came and sat and listened. My sister and I stayed outside, both in inclement and fair weather, playing all the games children play in the evening—Kick the Can, Pussy in the Corner, Tag, Hide and Seek and others, and sometimes we sat on the porch and told stories, mostly ghost tales—and I’m here to say that those kids could spin some very scary stories!

Now that I’ve laid the scene, I’ll progress to the when, where, why and how I lost my marbles. I arrived home from school and Millie and my niece, Millie’s charge, were the only ones there. Left to my own devices, I swept an area of the front yard clean, drew a circle and began playing marbles. Soon after I began one of the kids from Millie’s neighborhood came by, watched my shooting for a few minutes and asked if he could play. I said yes, and the battle was joined—we played for keeps, meaning that when a shooter knocked one of the other shooter’s marbles out of the ring, that marble changed ownership—it now belonged to the one that caused it to go outside the ring. At first I seemed to be in control, but as the game progressed I realized that I had agreed to a play-for-keeps game with a kid that was a much better shooter than I.

So did I call off the game? Not on your life! I had a reputation to support and I worked very hard to reclaim some of my marbles that now resided in the black kid’s pockets. I was almost marbleless when Jessie came home from work. She briefly watched us at play and then entered the house, and a short time later Millie came out and headed for home. Then Jessie returned to the front yard—Jessie, my oldest sister and the sister that often gave orders that I was required to obey. She ordered me into the house, and I told my new friend—my adversary—that I had to go in, and he headed for home also, his pockets bulging with marbles that earlier had been in my pockets.

Jessie told me later that it was not seemly for me to be seen playing with a N-word child, that it would look odd to our neighbors. I pointed out to her that I had lost most of my marbles, and that I appeared to be on a winning streak at the time she stopped the game. Her response to that? You shouldn’t have been playing for keeps—that’s gambling, and gambling’s a sin. I didn’t bother to argue that I played with the black kids on Saturday evenings. I knew that the difference was the difference between day and night, between light and dark. I was in full view during daylight hours, subject to the stares of disapproving blacks as well as whites, and in the darkness of the evening I was not subjected to such stares.

That’s it—that’s how I lost my marbles, a loss that I was never to recoup. I never saw that kid again—sometimes I think that he may have been a ringer, a professional sent in from another area to pick up some easy loot in the form of marbles, similar to what Paul Newman did in his movie, The Hustler—bummer!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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Ode to Janie & Ode to everyone else . . .

You, the reader, are about to be subjected to reading two odes, the results of my abject attempt at writing poetry. I apologize in advance to those that dislike doggerel masquerading as legitimate verse. And for the multitude that may not be familiar with the term doggerel, I tender the following doggerel attributes described by Wikipedia:

Doggerel might have any or all of the following failings: trite, cliché, or overly sentimental content, forced or imprecise rhymes, faulty meter, ordering of words to force correct meter, trivial subject, or inept handling of subject.

My poetry—and I use the term loosely—probably includes all those attributes, and poet laureates throughout history would probably wince if subjected to a reading of my efforts. However, if their wince meter measured humility, earnestness, love and forgivingness the indicator would go off scale in my favor.

Well, okay, I’ll back off a bit on the humility part. Hey, I’m a wannabe poet and let’s face it—even poet laureates had to start somewhere.

Ode to Janie

Your life has run its course
And now you have gone
To heaven as your just reward
And left me here alone.

I sail the seas without a mate
In weather foul and fair
But I fear the ship will founder
With my mate not being there.

And if the ship goes under
In life’s unruly sea
I’ll closely hold your loving words
That were I’ll wait for thee.

Ode to Janie and to everyone else

No one lives forever
At least not in this realm
And at best we’ll have a long life
With our Maker at the helm.

And when our life is over
And a new life has begun
Be it in that world of gladness
That waits for everyone.

But only if our time on earth
Is spent on doing good
Will we go to spend eternity
In that heavenly neighborhood.

That’s my Ode to Janie and my Ode to everyone else, and I’m sticking to both.

Postscript: When you, the reader, have recovered from exposure to this posting, click here to read my Ode to a Cheesecake, an excellent example of contemporary verse—oh, and it’s also an excellent example of doggerel. Hey, I do the best I can with what I have to work with.

Yes, I know, I ended that last sentence with a preposition—to paraphrase the words of Sir Winston Churchill, that is something with which you will have to up with put.

 

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Does hell exist? I’ll report, you decide . . .

Recently various television news outlets discussed the existence of hell, noting that if heaven exists but hell does not, then everyone that dies must go to heaven. I submit that if a person believes in heaven, then that person must believe in hell. One cannot exist without the other. Heaven exists in the minds and beliefs of people, and hell exists in their minds and beliefs just as surely as does heaven. I am pleased with the way heaven is presented but I really dislike the current description of hell, and I believe I have a more acceptable vision of hell—if it exists!

Everything in our universe and everything outside our universe has its opposite. One cannot exist without the other. Form an image of a mountain in your thoughts, and you’ll find that a valley is included in the image. No mountain can exist, either in reality or in our thoughts, without the existence of a valley. Mountains and valleys must coexist if either is to exist, and while their existence can be verified, it cannot be falsified, and it is at this point their existence diverges from the discussion of whether heaven or hell exists.

I submit that heaven and hell also must coexist or not exist at all. We can cling to our belief that one or the other or both exist, but we can never know—we can only believe. True knowledge is reserved to those for whom life as we know it has ended, and they now exist in another world, either in heaven or hell if either exists. Their existence can neither be verified nor falsified by anyone living. Their existence depends on our beliefs, whether those beliefs are derived from the Scriptures or from our lifetime of living and observing humanity.

Just for discussion, let’s suppose that heaven is exactly as described in the Scriptures and that hell is not as described. Perhaps hell does not exist. Perhaps those not entitled to spend eternity in heaven do not go to hell when they die. Let’s suppose that the wicked have already been judged when they die—prejudged, so to speak—and they simply do not go anywhere. Their spirits do not go to heaven when they die—their spirit, their souls, that which gave them life simply cease to exist, and perhaps that is the hell foretold in the scriptures.

Let’s suppose that the spirit that exists in those of us who have been judged unacceptable in heaven dies when the body dies and remains dead through eternity. Our being barred from heaven therefore is our punishment for living our lives in such a manner that we did not qualify for heaven. Of course those of us that do not make the grade will never know that we failed, but we will have been spared an eternity doing the devil’s bidding while enveloped in flames and forced to shovel coal to keep the fires burning. Bummer!

Thus we have postulated a heaven and its antithesis, hell, without the necessity of describing hell as fire and brimstone ruled by a red devil with horns and a pitchfork tail. If the truth be known, had it not been for volcanic eruptions the ancients would never have developed the idea of hell, then invented the devil and located his kingdom at the center of the earth.

In all of recorded history only one person has returned to the earth after death, and the truth of that record resides in us as individuals. We can neither verify nor falsify that story of life after death, and can never know the truth of that return until we draw our final breath—until then we can only believe and hold to that belief in the hopes that heaven does exist and that our beliefs and our actions in this life will qualify us to spend eternity in heaven—not an easy task, that! And the beauty of my hypothesis is that even if we are denied entry into heaven, we will never know that we were denied because we would spend eternity in the nothingness of hell.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: This final image is my self-portrait from some five months ago, but as time has passed my anger has faded to the point that I no longer try to place blame on anyone or anything. I no longer fault God for not giving her doctors the power to lengthen her life, and I no longer curse the devil for the disease that took my wife away from me—even after 58 years of marriage I wanted more—I wanted our marriage to never end. If you like, you can click here for a posting that came from my heart and from the depths of my soul.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2011 in death, Family, funeral, heaven, television, weddings

 

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My red-haired blue-eyed neighbor . . .

We moved to the farm in Mississippi at the end of the school year in Tennessee. The home of the nearest neighbor on our left was visible, perhaps a quarter of a mile away on the opposite side of the two-lane graveled road. The nearest neighbor on our right was farther away, perhaps a mile or so away, and there resided a family comprised of the father and the mother and, as they say in the southern hemisphere, a passel of young ‘uns.

There were several boys, stair-steps in age but all younger than I, and one girl, a beautiful red-haired woman-girl somewhere near my age, perhaps a bit older than I but much more attractive, with just one exception. That lovely auburn-haired girl with the azure blue eyes was—I won’t say she was cursed with those eyes, nor will I say she was blessed with them. I will only say that she had what my mother referred to as A&P eyes, namely that one looked toward the Atlantic and the other toward the Pacific.

The video below shows various girls that have deliberately crossed their eyes for the camera. Compared with my beautiful red haired neighbor, they all look normal. Click on the black screen below to watch the video, and be sure to turn up the sound for some catchy music—enjoy!

In this respect the girl was a reflection of her mother, a seldom seen lady with the same flaming red hair and azure blue eyes that never seemed to be focused on the same object, each seemingly independent of the other, apparently looking in opposite directions. I don’t remember whether any of the boys had inherited the eye aberrations, primarily because I paid very little attention to the boys or their eyes—they may in fact have been replicas of their mother, but my thoughts and my eyes were always focused on their sister. I do remember that all the boys had red hair, undoubtedly inherited from their mother.

Their dark-haired father worked somewhere away from home and was seldom seen, even on weekends. I don’t remember that he ever spoke to me—he may have felt that I was just another one of his kids, although my blond, almost white hair should have been a dead giveaway—perhaps he shared the same visual affliction with his wife and children.

I know, I know—I’m being ungracious and I don’t mean to be that way. I’m just telling the story as it was, without any attempt to gild the lily. The daughter was a beautiful creature, blue eyes and creamy skin with a sprinkling of cute freckles, a complexion and a countenance that reflected her age. I was only twelve at the time—okay, twelve and a half, but for some time I had been uncomfortably aware of certain physical differences between boys and girls and between girls and women. Believe me, the girl left no doubt as to her gender. The only doubt raised—so to speak—was of her chronological age.

At any time that I bring up memories of the farm and of the red-haired girl with the striking blue eyes, I immediately recall a line from the Wreck of the Hesperus, a narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, first published in 1842. My first contact with the poem was a hundred years later in 1942 when I was a fourth grader at Miss Mary’s elementary school.

In Wordsworth’s epic poem the captain lashes his daughter to the mast to prevent her from being washed overboard in a violent storm. The ship breaks up on the reefs and the daughter is found dead, still lashed to the mast. The only line I remember coherently from the poem is blue were her eyes, blue as the skies, blue as the blue dress she wore.

Yep, times have changed—I defy anyone to show me a fourth grade teacher today with the temerity to present such obsolete reading material to a class. And I submit that it may be difficult to find a fourth grade teacher that is familiar with the poem. I am privy to much of the material presented in today’s schools through contact with my grandchildren, up to and including the college level, and I feel safe in saying that poetry, particularly poetry from the ages, is outmoded, unfashionable, gone the way of cursive writing in our schools.

Students of today, if required at all to apply pencil or pen to paper, choose to print rather than using cursive writing as taught with the old-time Spencer handbooks. The essay questions used in my school days, beginning in elementary school and continuing through college, have gone the way of the dinosaurs, and it is doubtful whether they can ever be restored. The students don’t like essay questions, and the teachers don’t like to create the questions and grade the answers—too time consuming. Bummer!

I just reviewed the last several paragraphs and I realize that I have digressed from my topic, that of the red-haired girl. I offer my abject apology and I will return to the subject of this posting, to wit:

I was only favored with a few weekends during that summer to visit with the family. We kids played kick-the-can, tag, hide-and-seek, pussy-in-the-corner, hop-scotch and similar games, exercises virtually unknown by today’s youth. I have vivid memories of Saturday when it rained all day, and all of us were banished to the barn hayloft—the house was too small to contain us and our antics. I never knew how long the family had lived there. I only know that they were there in the spring when we moved to the farm, and were gone when school started in the fall, replaced by a black family that raised turkeys, and yes, I have in mind a posting relating to the turkeys—stay tuned.

The red-haired girl and her family were gone by the time school started in the fall, so I never had the opportunity to share a seat on the school bus for our 12-mile daily ride to school. Even had she and her family not moved away, the pleasure would have been brief because around Christmas time my stepfather created a situation that would allow him to get rid of his familial responsibilities The crops were in, nothing had been planted for the next growing season, the flock of chickens had been appropriately thinned and the survivors fattened, one mule sold and the other found dead behind the barn—a death that deserves a separate posting so stay tuned—two Fox Terriers had been dispatched to dog heaven, and our milk cow had been serviced to reproduce herself in early summer, and yes, that also deserves a separate posting—stay tuned!

Click here for the story of the family’s breakup on the farm—it’s a tale well told, one that involves a question, Jergen’s Lotion, a cheek severely slapped, a cheek brutally scratched, a pan of biscuits, a shotgun, a race for the woods and a Model-A Ford roadster—not exactly an epic but a story with lots of earthy pathos and drama.

If there was anything else to tell about my relationship with the cute red-haired cross-eyed girl, something perhaps ranging somewhere between prurient and obscene, I would proudly post it in detail, all in capital letters with lots of exclamation points. I suppose I could fabricate something, but I don’t want to tell a lie—embellish, perhaps, but not an outright lie, not at this late stage in life. I already have a heap to answer for, and I have no wish to add to to that heap.

Nope, nothing happened, not even in the hayloft, and I’ll close with a quote from the words of John Greenleaf Whittier in Maud Muller: For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these—it might have been. And just between you and me and the barn hayloft, had I known then what I know now, it would have been!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
 

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Hey, Mac—bring those Harris Faulkner videos back!

On the first day of this year I published a lengthy—as is my wont—essay on the proliferation of female news readers on television and the exponential increase in the amount of breast and leg skin surfaces exposed to viewers by some of those women. My dissertation focused on Harris Faulkner and Lauren Sanchez, both employees of Fox News, the former in New York and the latter in California. The following video featuring Laura Sanchez will be replicated at the bottom of this post. I’m including it here in the event that one or more of my viewers might—perhaps but not likely—grow weary of my blathering and cease reading before reaching the bottom—so to speak—and retreat without having had the pleasure of hearing the melodious voice of Laura Sanchez. And the video is worth watching at least twice, even if one is first required to wade through a shallow stream of verbiage—or should that read a stream of shallow verbiage? I won’t mind comments and answers to that question—I’m not particularly thick-skinned, but I can withstand most insults or assaults on my writing.

I used a passage from the Holy Bible to chide the networks and the women, a passage that read in part, her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins, and I intimated that in making that post I was the voice of John the Baptist, the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness.

I grant the notion that I was presumptious and brazen in identifying my voice as the voice of him that was crying in the wilderness, etc., but the reason for that reference should be obvious to any casual visitor to my blog—I can’t resist it. Presumptiousness and brazenness are embedded—so to speak—in my nature and so far in an existence nearing a full eight decades, neither trait has dimmed—nay, both have flourished and continue to flourish.

It is to my credit that I did not quote more of the biblical text concerning the voice crying in the wilderness. I could have cited that part that reads, every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. Yep, I could have referenced that passage in my post but I did not, although it serves as support—so to speak—for that post.

And now to continue:

And lo, it came to pass that somehow, someone somewhere at sometime following the publication of my scholarly literary effort neutered two of the three YouTube videos that were embedded in my post. Both have been technically comprised and are no longer available for viewing. Both featured the beautiful, highly regarded and spectacularly constructed Harris Faulkner, a regular on Fox News, one blessed with facial and other corporeal features lovely to look upon. The viewing screen still appears on my blog, but when one clicks on the screen the following statement appears, white letters on the black background effectively denying an adoring horde of television viewers—mostly men, I’ll grant you, but perhaps persons of the same sex and those of conflicting gender preferences also enjoy gazing upon the beautifully bountiful bosom of Harris Faulkner:

This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.

Before I continue I must say that I consider this a violation of free speech, a right guaranteed by our constitution—this is censorship at its worst, or perhaps at its finest, comparable to the blanket of silence that covered Germany during the reign of Hitler. A casual look at my blog statistics will show that those two videos were important factors in the daily lives of my viewers—and mine. Those videos were visual stimulants that, in the words of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, were admonitions for viewers to go out and seize the day—or something.

It’s six o’clock in the morning and I’ve been up and abroad—the term abroad is simply a figure of speech indicating activity—since four o’clock in the morning, so I’ll wrap this up with the tale of a magician on a civilian ocean liner during World War II.

The magician had already made several items disappear, including his highly trained and highly vocal parrot and its cage, several passengers and a table of food with its contents and its seated guests, and in each case brought them back to view when, without warning an enemy torpedo struck the ship and it sank in minutes.

The parrot was bobbing around in its cage amid the flotsam of passengers and furniture and ship’s stores when the magician suddenly surfaced nearby, and the parrot screamed at him—are y’all ready for dis?

Hey, Mac, stop screwing around and bring that boat back!

So how is that joke germane to this post?

Hey, Mac, whoever you are that had the temerity to emasculate those videos—stop screwing around and bring ‘em back!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: I am embedding the video of Laura Sanchez in this post as a balm for those that access my blog hoping to see Harris Faulkner, not in the flesh but in an excellent and partial representation thereof. The video of Laura Sanchez perhaps does not completely make up for the loss of the Faulkner videos, but she comes very close to it.

 

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Omaha, St. Mary’s University & Cyrano de Bergerac

Far back in the swirling mists of time, back in the seventh decade of the past century—well, to be specific it was in 1966 and I needed a few more college credits to add to the motley collection I had amassed over the prior nine years.

I was a member of the United States armed forces at the time, not necessarily gainfully employed—military pay was miserly when compared to today’s pay rates. My wife and I were sharing—not equally but sharing—the responsibilities involved in raising a young family of three girls and a miniature Chihuahua, aged twelve, eight, four and one year respectively. That didn’t leave much time for study, but spurred on by my desire for a bona fide college degree, I enrolled in night school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

I had almost enough college credits to transfer my hours to the Municipal University of Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska in order to earn a baccalaureate. I only needed a few more hours in general education, and at that time I had more than a passing interest in religion, so in my search for truth I enrolled in several courses dealing with religion. My final class at St. Mary’s was a study of early Greek philosophy and ancient Greek philosophers. Successful completion of that final course with its three hours of credit would allow me to transfer my hours to Omaha under the auspices of the military services’ Bootstrap program.

Remember my statement that working full-time and helping maintain a household and raising three girls and a Chihuahua was a hindrance to my studies? I did not do well in the philosophy class, and that was reflected by my final grade, a grade based only on the final test for that subject in that semester. No credit was given for attendance, dress or attitude, class participation or good looks—not that such credit would have helped me—I just thought it was worth mentioning.

On second thought I am convinced that extra credit was given in that class, but was restricted to the mini-skirted girls that monopolized the front row seats, habitually—nay, constantly—crossing and uncrossing their legs. However, I will reserve that topic for a future Word Press post—stay tuned!

The test consisted of four essay questions, to only one of which—number four—I penned a scholarly answer and was given the full 25 points allowed for each question. As for the first three questions, my blue test booklet showed only the numbers and that little black dot—the period—that followed each number. If you guessed my final number grade for the course as 25 you would be correct, and if you guessed my final letter grade as an F, you would be wrong. The priest that taught the class quite generously awarded me a D for the class, a grade that carried weight and could count toward a degree from St. Mary’s University.

That evening I asked the instructor for a private meeting, and we stayed in the classroom after the other students left. I explained the predicament in which the D placed me, and he told me that it could be used at St. Mary’s, but I explained that even if it could be transferred, Omaha would not accept it. I did not shed any tears during my private session with the priest, but I did allow my voice to waver and crack several times—I know I created a pitiful spectacle, but hey, I was desperate.

And it worked. He told me to study industriously and return to his classroom the following week on an evening that he had no class. I spent most of the next week studying the material and writing notes on small scraps of paper. Yes, they were cheat notes—I said I was desperate, right?

I returned the following week and the priest gave me a blue test booklet and a paper with four hand-written questions, then told me to find an empty classroom on the second floor, take the test and return it within one hour. Although the evening was balmy, I sported a sport coat fitted with two outside pockets and two inside pockets, all filled with those little scraps of paper that I mentioned—I was running late that night and had forgotten to remove them—honest! (And if you believe that, I have some ocean front property in Arizona, etc., etc.)

The rest of this story will be mercifully brief. I found an empty classroom, entered and closed the door behind me so I would not be distracted by hallway noises, and also with the hope that I would be alerted should the door be opened while I was cheating on the test. And now, just one more short paragraph and you, my readers, will be free to search for greener pastures of literature. I know full well that the final paragraph will require readers to suspend disbelief, but so be it—as Bill Clinton might say, It is what it is.

I removed not one cheat note from my stuffed coat pockets—not one. I had worked so hard to identify test material to put on cheat notes that I knew the material by rote. I never knew the actual point grade given, but my D was upgraded to a C that was immediately transferred to Omaha’s municipal university, an institute of higher learning that graduated me in the spring of 1968, the last class to be graduated before the university became UNO, the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: Please note that I said the Municipal University of Omaha graduated me, not that I graduated the University of Omaha. One cannot graduate a university, no matter how mightily one strives—only universities have the right and the privilege to graduate. Yes, I am aware of the common usage of the verb phrase to graduate, but I steadfastly refuse the common usage, electing instead to abuse the words of Cyrano de Bergerac as given voice by Edmond Rostand in his 1897 play—like the mighty oak I stand, not tall but alone—or something similar to that.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Books, education, Family, Humor, Military, poetry, Writing

 

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Retired at 10 & 16, a triple-dipper at 20—go figure!

The seventh day of March is a red-letter day for me. One of my sisters, the one closest to me in age, was born on that day eighteen months before I made my entrance into the world of 1932 on September 19, one of the more important events of that year. My birth in that month of that year was overlooked by Wikipedia—that organization listed only four events in September worth reporting, and none was on the 19th. If you like, you can click here to read a proudly crafted and craftily presented study of my birth and many subsequent events.

The year 1932 was a leap year—had I been born on the 29th of February that year, I could only celebrate my birthday every four years, and by counting only my official birthdays I would now be twenty years old. I share my birth during a leap year with my neighbor, a lady that was born on the 29th day of February. As Don Adams of Get Smart fame would say, while showing a small space between his thumb and forefinger—Missed it by that much! Using the same formula that made my age 19, her leap year birthdays would make her 13 years old.

I hold the seventh of March firmly in my memories. On that date in 1949 I awakened at an early hour, performed my morning ablutions, broke my fast, allowed my mother to teach me how to make a Windsor knot in a necktie, dressed and bade my goodbyes, walked the few blocks to the courthouse in Columbus, Mississippi, swore an oath of allegiance to the United States of America, became a US  Air Force recruit, boarded a train to New Orleans, transferred to the Sunset Limited bound for San Antonio, Texas, arrived there the following day, completed 13 weeks of training successfully and remained in the United States Air Force for 22 years plus several months. I celebrated my actual nineteenth birthday in 1951 in the middle of a shooting war while based at Kimpo Air Base near Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. If you like, you can click here to learn a lot about Korea and Kimpo and the war, probably a lot more than you thought you needed to know.

I realize that it’s childish to compute one’s age on the premise that one was born on the last day of February in a leap year but it’s a lot of fun, and childish and fun somehow go together. I have retired twice from US government service, once from the Air Force with 22 years, and again from a federal law enforcement agency after 26 years of service. Using the leap year computation with a birthday only every fourth year, I would have been 10 at my first retirement,16 at my second retirement and I would now be—at the tender age of 20 years—a triple-dipper with a combined income from military service, federal civil service and Social Security.

Hey, I didn’t plan it that way—things just seemed to happen, and as they happened I just went with the flow. Oops, I forgot something—I also have a substantial return from a substantial IRA, one that is earning an annual interest rate of six and one-quarter percent. I suppose that would make me a quadruple dipper.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: I just thought of a letter I wrote to a newspaper editor in McAllen, Texas on the subject of double dipping, a letter that I posted on my blog. Click here to learn how I really feel about double dipping.

 
 

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Jesus Christ—the Son of God, or liar and charlatan?

Jesus Christ—the Son of God, or liar and charlatan?

My wife came to me in a dream last night. I awoke after the dream, then slipped back into sleep while savoring my time with her, repeating over and over in my mind what she had said. When I awoke and began yet another sad and silent day without her, only one phrase remained in my memory, a phrase that resounds in my thoughts now and always will. I don’t remember the circumstances or location of the dream or what prompted it, but this is what she said:

I have never felt better in my life!

Every word was enunciated succinctly, properly and clearly including the t in the word felt. The thought was voiced exultantly, jubilantly and joyfully, obviously and literally from the heart and from the soul—even the exclamation point came shining through. I am painfully aware that some of my readers may place this post in Ripley’s Believe it or Not category but please believe me, I am not making this up.

I have never felt that dreams were real because some of my dreams, particularly some of those I experienced as an adolescent, were so ridiculous that I usually was awakened by my own laughter. A recurring dream in my teenage years was one in which I could fly, just as did my comic book heroes.

One of those memorable dreams of flying was precipitated by my leap frogging over curbside parking meters, an unusual ability that few of my friends could match, even those much taller than I, and most wouldn’t even make the attempt, fearing the result of failing to clear the top of the meter and possibly sustaining irreversible damage to specific body parts. In my dreams, each time I cleared a meter I rose higher and higher before returning to the sidewalk, and ultimately I was in full flight, soaring over the earth from dizzying heights.

Some of those dreams were so real that although I was aware that I was dreaming, I eagerly looked forward to my awakening so I could show everyone that I could fly. At this point I must confess that I had many other dreams as a teenager, many even more fantastic and even more improbable—nay, more impossible—than flying, but I refuse to discuss them in a family-oriented venue such as Word Press—there is a time and place for everything under the sun, and this is neither the time nor the place for that.

So what does last night’s dream mean, given the belief that dreams mean something? I am of the opinion that what my wife said is an indication that life exists after death, perhaps not as we know life on earth, but life in another realm.

It is an immutable truth that every person that has ever lived, every person that lives now, and every person that will live in the future wonders if there is life after death. Many of us reject the thought of a life after death, and hold to the belief that first you’re born and then you die, and that’s the alpha and omega of humanity—the beginning and the end. I unashamedly but humbly admit that I was a non-believer until a recent event changed my mind. If you are interested, you can click here for a detailed explanation of that life-altering event—it’s a good read, beautifully crafted and presented, as are all my efforts to communicate on Word Press. I say that in all modesty, a trait that is the only fault in my character—were it not for that fault, I would be perfect!

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending. No, not me—those are the words of our Lord, given to us in Revelation 1:8 in the King James version of the Holy Bible. Whether we believe or disbelieve the Scriptures, neither non-believers nor believers can reject the fact that we exist, that we had a beginning, whether as the work of a Supreme Being, or through eons of change we are risen up from the depths of primeval slime to our present humanity.

It’s the Omega part of Revelation 1:8—the ending of life—that divides us into different groups of believers versus non-believers. Some of us consider the ending of life as simply a new beginning, a transition from the physical mortality that began at birth to a spiritual immortality that begins with death and continues throughout eternity.

None of us reject the Alpha, the first beginning, but we are not unanimous in our belief of a second beginning, or second coming, if you will—just as Jesus will have a second coming to earth, ours will be a second coming to heaven.  While we universally accept one beginning, acknowledging that it is real, many of us refuse to accept the possibility of a second beginning.

I can postulate the possibility that each of us is born with an empty spot, either placed in our body or in our heart or in our thoughts by a Supreme Being or by accident as we ascended from the primeval slime to our present humanness, and the only thing that will ever fill that empty space is a belief in life after death, that death is nothing more than a new beginning. For the inimitable few of my readers that have progressed this far in my efforts to entertain and enlighten, the following quote is offered:

Either Jesus Christ was who he said he was, the Son of God and the savior of man, or he was the greatest charlatan and liar that ever walked the face of the earth.

Can you guess who said that?

Give up?

The Reverend Billy Graham said it—I couldn’t find it online, but trust me—he said it. I memorized it many years ago from a text book required for a University of Alabama speech class, back in the days when I was still rising up through that primeval slime. At first I thought it was, as the British are wont to say, a bit cheeky, but then I realized that the reverend is telling us that we cannot accept Jesus partially—He must be wholeheartedly accepted by body and mind and soul, without a shadow of doubt—therein lies salvation.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2011 in death, education, Family, funeral, heaven, interment, religion

 

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A tale of two sisters: Spain, Topless, Dallas, & Virginia . . .

A tale of two sisters: Spain, Topless, Dallas, & Virginia . . .

The following e-mail was sent by my youngest daughter on her return to Dallas from Spain and other European countries to one of her sisters, the one that works, creates, lives and loves in Virginia. The names LuLu and WapWap are nicknames—their real names are not used in order to protect the guilty.

The author of this e-mail claims that she doesn’t blog because she doesn’t feel that she writes well. She and I are in complete disagreement concerning her feelings about her writing—I believe she has a tremendous potential to inform and entertain virtually any audience with her amusing musings. I made no changes to her e-mail, so I’ll let my readers review and vote on her writing.

LuLu, the recipient and respondent to her globe-trotting younger sister is  a professional photographer, a graphics artist and painter, an expert gardener and long-time blogger, and she makes no effort to hide her light under a bushel. Click here for a journey to various gardens and historic sites through photos made in the US and many foreign locations on several different continents—trust me, the visit is well worth your time!

To: LuLu
Sent: Wed, 16 Jul 2008 11:01 am
Subject: Re: Welcome back from Spain!

Hey, LuLu – I figured that you could use the shawl for decorating or something. I really didn’t picture you wearing it all that much, but who knows? I’m glad mom seems to be feeling better. Last time I was there which was the weekend before I went to Spain she just seemed so frail and tired and I knew she was. And that was before they put the device in her arm. So, I’m glad she seems to be better – she sounds better when I talk to her on the phone.

I’ll call you later to talk about Spain. We had a really nice trip and got to see a lot. Went to Barcelona and visited a winery about 2 hrs outside of the city so we got to see the countryside and its miles and miles of olive trees, Sevilla (loved that place), Madrid and Toledo where we saw a 600 year Catholic church that was incredible.

Loved the architecture in Barcelona (Gaudi’s cathedral, Segrada Familia?). Visited the beach, saw topless from newborn to 90. Quite a different world out there. Definitely no body issues in that country.We could probably take a lesson on that (with top on, of course). Walked a lot, a whole lot -Barcelona is a busy place. About 5 million in the city and 2 million outside of the city. Not a small town by any means.

Sevilla (much quieter, felt really comfortable walking around the town by myself, which I did). Could have stayed there the rest of the trip. The area we were in was very clean, quaint with all those tiny cobblestone streets leading to little restaurants and shopping.

Madrid – another busy city. Very cosmopolitan in many areas, lots of graffiti everywhere which is common throughout Spain. I guess they think it is art, I don’t know. Went to the Prado and some other modern museum where we saw tons of Picassos and Dali (is he a strange one or what?). Went to an authentic Flamenco show which was pretty intense. Just 2 people (man and woman) with a few guys playing instruments and singing behind them.  Whatever they were dancing to they really meant it. I really enjoyed that.

Mom said that you and Michael worked really hard on the front yard and that it looked beautiful. I’m sure she really appreciates that. Every time I went down there she would say that they needed to do something about it and now you have. So, that is a good thing.

Brandon is in baseball camp this week. He also had an all-stars game last night. He plays 1st base and did a terrific job all last year in that position (thus making All-Stars). However, for some reason, guess because he is tired, he could have been on the moon looking down at us because he truly was the only player out there that was paying no attention to the game.

You don’t want to come down too hard on him but the other kids are kind of depending on him to catch the ball. 1st base is a pretty critical position even in minor, minor, minor, minor league baseball. He would just watch it whiz by him and throw out his hand as an afterthought.

As a parent you don’t want to be embarrassed but I actually started to feel that way. Probably the same as mom would feel when I would drop the baton a lot or get my batons tangled up with one another at a competition while doing a simple salute. Not a proud parent moment.

I’ll talk to you later. I was actually weeding the front yard this morning. The weeds are so huge they look like a free form garden at this point. Gracie tried to help me pull them but didn’t have the strength. I try to like gardening and I can see how it is stress relieving but I just feel like there are lots of tiny eyes looking up at me as I disturb their carefully planned homes. Plus I’m afraid a spider is going to bite me, or a snake.We do have those around here sometimes. Anyway, what I’m trying to tell you is that I haven’t developed a love of gardening at this point.  I’m working on it though, but very slowly. Have a good day.

Love,
WapWap

This is the Virginian’s reply to her sister’s e-mail:

Hey, WapWap! Hope you got some great photos to share with us! FYI: Mom is looking (and feeling) really good. She’s got some pep back in her and her appetite is definitely up. Dad was irritating her the other day (you know how he likes to repeat things over and over until you want to deck him?), and to answer some crazy question he asked her, she finally said, “Shit, no!” It was so funny to hear her say that. Cracked him up, too. I guess he had picked at her long enough (you know how she always says he likes to just talk to hear himself!).

We had a great visit and got the flower beds up front looking good again (filled in the areas where they had pulled out all the hedges/shrubs). I’ll send photos once I pull them off the card.

Love ya,
LuLu

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2011 in baseball, Family, foreign travel, Humor

 

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Mark Twain, Pythagoras, poetry, death . . .

I sometimes imagine that I have the soul of a poet, and I would like to believe that my soul is that of a poet, but I do not have a shred of a poet’s talent. My love for poetry began when I first read the lines placed by Mark Twain on the headstone of the grave of his daughter, Olivia Susan Clemens, dead in 1896 at the age of twenty-four. I first read the epitaph as a Junior High School student—now known as Middle School. I was moved to tears, just as I am now while researching and writing this post.

Those words have for many years been attributed to Mark Twain, but they were borrowed from a poem written by Robert Richardson, Annette, published in 1893, three years before Twain’s daughter died. This is the verse Mark Twain placed on his daughter’s tombstone:

Warm summer sun, shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind, blow softly here,
Green sod above, lie light, lie light,
Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.

While writing his autobiography, Mark Twain said that he could not remember the author’s name, and apparently he was uncertain of the exact wording of the poem.
When Twain learned of the author and his work, he added the author’s name to the tombstone without changing the verse. Richardson’s original words are as follows:

Warm summer sun, shine friendly here
Warm western wind, blow kindly here;
Green sod above, rest light, rest light,
Good-night, Annette! Sweetheart, good-night!

The poem, Annette, also included this beautiful verse:

If that ancient ethic view
Of Pythagoras be true,
Your light soul is surely now
In that bird upon the bough,
Singing, with soft-swelling throat,
To the wind that heeds it not;
Or in that blue butterfly,

Flashing golden to the sun.

The ancient ethic view of Pythagoras, mentioned in the above excerpt from Annette, is explained as follows:

The ancient Pythagoreans believed that souls transmigrated into the bodies of other animals, and because of that belief they practiced vegetarianism, hence the poet’s references to the bird upon the bough and that blue butterfly. However, in Richardson’s ode to his daughter he passionately expresses his love for her, his belief in heaven and his hopes for her in the afterlife, saying that:

Somewhere there beyond the blue,
In the mansions that so many are,
They say, is there not
Any one of all, Annette, for you?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Childhood, death, Family, funeral

 

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One soul departs, and another arrives . . .

One soul departs,

and  another arrives.

I have read the letter that follows many times and each time my heart—my soul, my spirit—soars to incredible heights, and then descends to incredible depths. I know that I am not worthy of those heights, but I would like to believe that I do not deserve to remain at those depths.

I have vowed that in the time I have remaining above ground on this sphere—this earth—I will dedicate my efforts, my will, to live my life in a way that honors my wife, my family, my friends and my God. I hasten to add that I will accord that honor in my own way and not necessarily in ways favored by our society, nor by actions sanctioned by various religious denominations. I know that I cannot undo the things I’ve done in my lifetime that I should not have done, but I can try with all my might to do the things I should do in the time I have left in this realm.

I will begin this writing by saying proudly that I have the finest neighbors anyone could possible have, a beautiful couple that lives just a few feet away on the west side of our house. The husband is a self-employed architect and the wife is an educator-at-large in local school districts. They have two grown sons and a brand-new granddaughter.

My wife was in hospice care, and shortly before she died our neighbor gave her a gold chain with a pendant fashioned into the I Love You symbol in American Sign Language. She expressed her sorrow to my wife for her illness and her sorrow that she could not be with her until the end—her elder son’s wife, living in a distant city, was near child delivery and the doctors anticipated problems with the baby. My wife died before the neighbor left, and the neighbor’s sorrow—her sadness—is eloquently expressed in the letter she gave me before she left.

With her permission I have reproduced the letter and am posting it exactly as written, including the pen-and-ink sentence at the top of the page. She professes little talent for writing, but in my opinion, unlettered and unfettered though my opinion may be, she has a tremendous talent for writing and should pursue that talent, whether as a vocation or as an avocation.

Her letter follows, exactly as written. The first sentence just above the poem—This was in my heart today—was written in ink in the upper margin:

This was in my heart today:

Courage is not the towering oak
That sees storms come and go,
It is the fragile blossom
That opens in the snow.
—Alice MacKenzie Swalm

Dear Mike,

You hurt so deeply…..so, so deeply. You are sad, on top of sad, on top of sad. And all I know to say is, “I’m sorry.” So trite…..it screams out that I can’t even begin to feel your pain. I want to just sit and cry, cry, cry with you. Janie left you for another. That will always break your heart. She left you, she left you…how could she? You were always there for her. Year after year, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, second after second…..you were always there for her. But she left anyway. Gone, gone, gone. You always knew that she would leave you. It never mattered. You would do it all over again if you could. If only you could.

She said that you were a “Good Man.” A good man. A loving man. A caring man. A clever man. A funny man. A loyal man. A knowledgeable  man. An interesting man. But a man all the same. Not perfect, but not a requirement for Janie.

And there lies the real beauty. Janie left room for others to live their own lives. To make their own mistakes. To make their own amends. To write their own stories. To make their own verses and rhymes. To be their own selves. To find their own beauty. To find their own strengths. To find their own weaknesses. No matter where you were in life, whether in the good or the bad, she welcomed you home when you were ready to be home. She didn’t push or prod. She just waited. She knew you would eventually come home. She led by example. Every needle, every probe, every surgery, every bruise, every doctor visit…she said, “Be strong. Be strong, be strong, be strong. It was her battle cry. No words needed. She screamed it out with the softest of cries. So strong…..yet so, so gentle.

I’m your neighbor. I’m just simply a neighbor. How could I be touched this way? For me, death and birth are coming at the same time. I didn’t want to choose one over the other. But here it is, saying choose, choose. Janie’s example said to pick life. Choose life, she said. It is with sadness that I go. Even when I should be filled with bubbling joy. Be strong, she says. Go and be strong.

You are a good neighbor. The best. Be strong. Be strong. Be strong. “Live” she says. Be strong. She will wait for you to come Home.

With Sad, Sad, Sadness,

Your Neighbor, Your Friend,

Kathy

Postscript: At the memorial for my wife, our daughters placed the “I Love You” pendant in their mother’s hands, along with a small card with Biblical quotations given to her many years ago by her sister, Christine. The only other jewelry was a gold chain with a small pendant that I brought home many years ago from a foreign assignment while in the military. The pendant has a French quotation that translates as “I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.”

My neighbor is back home now and back in work harness. Her granddaughter, Caitlan, was delivered successfully by Caesarian surgery. The baby weighed eight pounds and two ounces at birth, and she is healthy, happy and growing by leaps and bounds.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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The purloined watermelon . . .

Some years ago I had a friend, a relative by marriage, one that I loved and felt as close to as I did my only brother—closer, in fact, given the fact that I knew him longer and better than I did my brother. My friend left this realm for another some fifteen years ago, and a few years before his death, in his view having strayed from the fold, he became a born-again Christian.

He became active in his church and tithed faithfully, both in coin of the realm and in services to the church and to his fellow parishioners. He professed his firm belief that he would spend eternity in heaven, among family members, relatives and friends, and felt that he had no reason to doubt that belief, that he had turned his life around and earned the right to enter there. I, in turn, also believe that at this moment he is there, moving freely among those long-departed family members, relatives and friends, laughing and joking and probably barbecuing for them and for the angels.

I don’t recall whether he had an epiphany that prompted the change in his life, but he told me something that he did shortly after he was born again, something that he felt he was obligated to do. He said that as a teenager many years before his return to the Christian religion—his makeover, so to speak—he stole a watermelon from a neighboring farmer’s field. After his return to the Christian faith he went to that farmer, apologized for his action and offered monetary compensation based on the prevailing price for a similar melon. He said that his spirit soared—well, what he actually said was that he felt a lot better after the farmer accepted the compensation and forgave him for his transgression.

I’m reasonably certain that he acknowledged—and made appropriate amends for—any other transgressions as best he could, given the possibility that other transgressions existed.

I have reminisced on his story of the watermelon theft many times over the years, and I still find it remarkable that he remembered his action and felt obliged to make amends for the theft. I find myself speculating that there may have been other, more significant transgressions to account for in one way or another, whether  material compensation or a simple admission of guilt and a plea for forgiveness. In any event, the theft of the watermelon is the only transgression he confided in me.

In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that I also have stolen watermelons—and cantaloupes and honeydew melons—from a farmer’s field, not once but numerous times. I was a young GI based in south Georgia on a US Air Force base surrounded by bounteous fields, their crops easily seen along side country roads.

The fields were replete in season with such delicacies as watermelons and cantaloupes, ripened in the hot Georgia sun and ready for harvesting and quite vulnerable to theft, particularly by thieves operating under cover of darkness. I am sorrowed by the fact that I cannot render compensation for those thefts because of the passage of time. That was almost sixty years ago, and the affronted farmer has been tending crops in heaven for many years. Besides, those fields probably sport subdivisions now rather than crops.

The best I can do is to vow that I will never steal another watermelon or cantaloupe in the future. I have already expressed my remorse to the proper authorities in my prayers, and I will take my chances when I stand for reconciliation and entry into el cielo—heaven.

That’s my watermelon story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Childhood, death, Family, farming, food, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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Redux: Today’s youth vs yesterday’s . . .

I found this post among those relegated to the dustbin of previous posts. I enjoyed it so much that I rescued it, dusted it off, added some images and now I am presenting it to those that may have missed it back in March 0f 2010. I confess that I did not create the original, but I can say, without a tinge of blushing, that I improved it before offering it up on my blog. I explained all that in the original post, and included a disclaimer concerning my additions to the original—read on, and enjoy.

Today’s youth vs yesterday’s

A special note: All the italicized passages in this posting are my thoughts—they are separate from the original e-mail, but some of the un-italicized passages in the posting are mine—see my disclaimer below.

I received this item in an e-mail from a friend, and I felt it was well worth posting on Word Press. As always, the e-mail contained faults caused by its wandering around the internet and also as always, at least almost always—well, let’s say sometimes—the writing was seriously in need of attention.

With the most honorable intentions of making good writing better—the best, actually—I took the liberty of tidying up the e-mail. For starters, I removed an estimated total of 250 exclamation points. I did not actually count them, so my estimate may have been a tad high, but there was a huge bunch of exclamation points. It appeared that the keyboard had a mind of its own, and for whatever reason it sprinkled a plethora of exclamation points that appeared randomly throughout the e-mail.

The original teller of this tale vacillated among first, second and third person perspectives so I corrected it. The story is now told by a person aged 30 years or more and directed to persons that have accumulated fewer than thirty years of age. It is specifically directed to the youth of today.

A disclaimer: I must now, in the interests of full disclosure, admit that my efforts to improve this posting were not restricted to exclamation point removal. No, I added my own thoughts here and there—mostly there—adding or taking away as I saw fit, and I can state, unblushingly, that my contributions, whether they involved addition or subtraction, improved the missive in a literary sense and added significantly to the plentiful humor evinced in the original e-mail.

Hey, it’s an internet e-mail—it’s not copyrighted. It came to me unbidden and now it’s mine—I can massage it and manipulate it anyway I desire. I consider it comparable to a whole banana tossed from a speeding auto. It may be a bit the worse from its contact with asphalt, earth and the prickly pear bush in which it landed, but if it isn’t peeled—if its skin is unbroken—one may retrieve it, peel it and consume it with no fear of lessened gustatory effects or legal retribution. In that vein, I cheerfully yield to viewers that may wish to interpose their own thoughts.

Here I will apply a phrase often used, in some respects too often, by Sean Hannity on Fox News, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

And now on to the posting—the original e-mail was untitled, so I seized the opportunity to title it:

Today’s youth vs yesterday’s . . .

If you are 30 or older, you should find this hilarious:

When I was a kid, adults bored me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were when they were growing up, what with walking twenty-five miles to school every morning—uphill—barefoot—both ways, yadda, yadda, yadda.

And I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in you know where that I would lay a bunch of stuff like that on my kids about how hard I had it then and how easy they have it now. However, now that I’m past the ripe old age of thirty, I can’t resist looking around at the youth of today. They have it so easy. Compared to my childhood years, theirs are Utopian in every respect.

I hate to say it, but you kids today? You have no idea how good you have it.

When we were kids we didn’t have the Internet. If we wanted to know something we had to go to the library and look it up ourselves—in the card catalog.

There was no email. We had to write a letter by applying a pen or pencil to a piece of paper. We then folded the paper and secured it in a paper enclosure known as an envelope, and we sealed the envelope by licking the sticky side of its flap, and then we licked a postage stamp of the proper denomination and placed it on the envelope, and then we had to walk all the way to the sidewalk to put it in the mailbox and raise the flag, and it would take a week or more to get there and another week or more to get an answer.

Nowadays envelopes are pre-licked. In the unlikely event that you need to write a letter, you simply remove the safety strip and press the flap to seal the envelope—after first placing the letter in the envelope, of course.

Today’s postage stamps are also pre-licked. You only need to peel the stamp from its backing and affix it to the upper right corner of the envelope. We consider those advances—from licking envelopes and stamps to the present pre-licked systems—high tech.

Child Protective Services was unborn, and nobody cared if our parents beat us. In fact, the parents of our friends had permission to also kick our butts.

No place was safe.

There were no MP3s or Napsters or iTunes—if we wanted to steal music, we had to hitchhike to the nearest record store and shoplift it.

Either that or we had to wait around all day to tape it from the radio, and the DJ would usually talk over the beginning and screw up the recording. There were no CD players—we had 8-track tape decks in our cars. We would play our favorite tape and eject it when finished, and then the tape would come undone rendering it useless. But hey, that’s how we rolled, baby—can you dig it?

We didn’t have fancy stuff like Call Waiting. If we were on the phone and someone else called, they heard a busy signal—that was it.

And we had no cell phones. If we left the house we could neither make a call nor receive one. We actually had to be out of touch with our friends. Oh, my, God—think of the horror of not being in touch with someone 24/7.

And today there’s texting—you kids have no idea how much you annoy us with your damn texting.

And we had no fancy Caller ID either. When the phone rang we had no idea who was calling—it could be our school, our parents, our boss, our bookie, our drug dealer or a collection agent—we had no way of knowing. We had to pick up the phone—the one tethered to the wall—and take our chances.

We had no fancy PlayStation or Xbox video games with high resolution 3-D graphics—we had the Atari 2600 with games such as Space Invaders and Asteroids. Our screen guy was a little square, and we actually had to use our imagination. And there were no multiple levels or screens—we had only one screen—forever! And we could never win. The games just kept getting harder and faster until we died—very similar to the game of life.

We had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on television, and we were screwed when it came to channel surfing. Remote controls had not yet been invented—in the good old days we had to get off our collective butts and walk over to the TV to change the channel.

I can hear it now: No remotes? No REMOTES? Oh, no, that’s impossible.

And we had no Cartoon Network—we could only get cartoons on Saturday morning. Do you hear what I’m saying? We had to wait all week for cartoons, you spoiled little rat finks.

And we didn’t have microwaves. If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove—imagine that.

And our parents told us to stay outside and play—all day long and far into the evening. No, we had no electronics to soothe and comfort us, and if we came back inside we were forced to do chores.

As for car seats—oh, please—our moms threw us into the back seat and we hung on. If we were lucky we got the old safety arm across the chest at the last second if a sudden stop was required, and if we were in the front seat and our head hit the dashboard—well, that was our fault for riding shotgun in the first place.

Do you see it?

Can you dig it?

That’s what I’m talking about—you kids today have it far too easy. You’re spoiled rotten. You guys would not last five minutes in our day or at any time before our day.

Best regards,

The Over 30 Crowd

Time is a gift given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life—Norton Juster.

 
 

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Comments on “A letter from a Union soldier, 1861 . . .”

I recently received an e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi that included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States. Click here to read that soldier’s final written words, beautifully written in a fashion that is largely lost to us in this day and age. My posting of the letter garnered a comment from a reader, a comment to which I responded at some length.

This is the reader’s comment:

I was educated in the British system and for a long time, the Civil war meant either the War of the Roses or Cromwell’s war. It was as an adult that I started to understand our own Civil War. It is a sad thing the young man did not survive, consigning his small children to the very horrors of an orphaned existence. That said, I have always been struck by how beautifully young men wrote 150 years ago.

My response to that comment follows:

Thanks for visiting and thanks for the comment. Your observation that the written word was beautifully constructed 150 years ago necessarily invites comparison with today’s pitifully penned letters. Cursive writing is a lost art, soon to be consigned to the graves of history, along with Egyptian hieroglyphics and prehistoric cave drawings.

Our children are not learning penmanship. At best, they learn the art of printing letters, then graduate from there to thumbing letters and numbers on digital devices and clicking on an infinitesimally huge host of pictorial characters that represent thoughts, locations, ideas and emotions, expressing themselves silently without leaving any sort of footprints for the future, other than those captured and held in digital form.

Should the unthinkable occur—nuclear war with the resulting loss worldwide of the atomic movement of electrons, neutrons and protons through electrical circuits, whether land based or hand held—without access to that method of communication mankind will eventually regress to its original system of grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions to communicate, and millenniums later will probably advance from there to crudely drawn pictorial representations on rocks and on cliff sides and in various caves around the globe—that is, of course, if anyone remains after the holocaust of nuclear war. Civilization is by far the worst for the deficiency in communication wrought by binary bits.

And finally, just to wrap up this response to your comment, I will quote an unknown contributor to our language:

What goes around, comes around.

That astute observation, obscured in the ancient mists of time, may be reversed without any loss of its meaning, namely, What comes around, goes around, a truism equal to another obscure saying:

There is nothing new under the sun.

It’s useless to Google that affirmation—there are endless variations that effectively say the same thing, whether or not shown on the Internet. Somewhere on our planet, probably penned on a cave wall or on a stone buried in the rubble of some ancient civilization, there is undoubtedly a series of identical crude pictures or symbols. That series ends and continues with unrelated pictures or symbols, and then centuries later, perhaps millenniums later, the original series is repeated.

And even that is not the origin of that contribution to our language. It was undoubtedly expressed in the grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions that were used to communicate with others of the human species, and even before humans appeared was expressed by the physical appearance and the sounds and poses adopted by non-humans, the so-called lower orders of animals.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2011 in civil war, death, Family

 

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Our tombstone inscriptions . . .

Prior to the interment of my wife’s mortal remains in Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery here in San Antonio, I was asked to provide any information that I wanted in addition to the mandatory data required by military regulations. An official of the funeral home said that I would have three lines for our use, each line consisting of a maximum of 15 letters including spaces. After securing agreement from our three daughters, I submitted the following three lines, to be placed below the lines required by regulation. These lines were my original submission:

Cry not for me
I am at home
I wait for thee

Shortly after that submission I was contacted by a cemetery representative, and was told that only two lines were available for my use after the mandatory items were inscribed. After a few minutes of looking at possibilities, I realized that any one of the three lines I had submitted could be deleted. I could remove the first line and the inscription would read:

I am at home
I wait for thee

I could delete the third line and the inscription would read:

Cry not for me
I am at home

And finally, with the second line removed the inscription would read:

Cry not for me
I wait for thee

Again with the agreement of our three daughters, I chose to remove the second line, so the inscription will read:

Cry not for me
I wait for thee

Of course, when my earthly remains are placed with the mortal remains of my wife in our temporal holding place—and I will join her, either sooner or later—her inscription will again need to be formulated, primarily because she will no longer be waiting for me—at that time I shall have arrived.

As for my inscription on the front of the final headstone to be inscribed and erected, I will entrust the inscription to the sensibilities of our three daughters, and I trust that they will be gentle in complying with that responsibility, and unanimous in their decision, whatever it may be—but none of that two out of three stuff!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in death, Family, funeral, health, marriage, Military

 

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A letter from a Union soldier, 1861 . . .

I received the following e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi, the nephew that toils lovingly and highly successfully in his chosen profession of designing and renovating churches of various denominations. The e-mail included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States—I refuse to refer to it as a civil war—there was not a trace of civility in that bitter conflict. The letter was untitled and is reproduced in its entirety following my nephew’s e-mail, exactly as I received it.

Note: Letters to and about Janie can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here. My not-so-humble opinion is that all are worthy of being read—I wrote them and published them to commemorate Janie’s life and to serve as a reminder to all that life is fleeting—in the words of British poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying. Click on that excerpt to read the entire poem and more about Janie.

This is the e-mail I received from my nephew:

Uncle Mike,

Your most recent posts, your letters to Janie, have reminded me of a letter I learned about from a public television series done by Ken Burns. The series documented some of the history of the American Civil War. Specifically, the program included parts of a letter written by a Union soldier who later became a casualty of that war. Although the letter was written before his death, the spirit of the letter, for me, transcends life and death. I believe your letters do the same. A copy of the text of the letter is attached.

Larry

This is the Union soldier’s letter to his wife, written on the eve of battle:

July the 14th, 1861
Washington DC

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death—and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar —-that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night – amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

A special note: The soldier, Sullivan, did not survive the battle—he died, but his letter and his spirit live on.

That’s the story of my nephew’s e-mail and the letter written by a Union soldier, and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in civil war, death, Family, marriage, Military

 

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Some thoughts from Alyce . . .

The following comment was made by Alyce, a long-time family friend, on my posting entitled A second letter to Janie in el cielo. Click here to read the letter. In that post I acknowledged that writing letters to those that have left this vale of tears and now exist in another realm strains credulity. Alyce’ comment is intended to express her feelings for loved ones she has lost, and to support my method of corresponding with family members I have lost. In my not-so-humble opinion, the comment is beautifully structured and presented—her thoughts come straight from the heart and her words ring true in every respect.

This  is her comment:

When I was a child and someone that I loved died, it was easier for me to accept. I don’t know why exactly. I remember that I was very young when my grandpa died,. My mom and I walked up to the casket and she showed me grandpa, but it didn’t look like him. He had his teeth in and no coveralls on—it was a suit. I pulled on mom’s dress and asked Who is that? She said It’s grandpa, and I said No.

Since I was so small I didn’t quite understand it, but later that day I had questions and mom always had the sweet answers. After explaining the teeth and the suit she said Grandpa is in heaven now with Jesus and happy, no pain, just enjoying the Lord, and I understood and accepted the answers mom gave me. Yes, I was sad because I would not see grandpa make tops and other things with his knife, but he was happy and I knew that someday I would see him again.

As I got older it became harder for me when someone I loved passed away to be with the Lord, probably because I knew as I got older I would someday pass away and leave the loved ones I have on earth, but knowing God’s promise of seeing them again has always comforted me.

I know after my mom died I went to the cemetery a few times, but then I remembered what my mom told me to remember, that she and daddy were not there, and it took me awhile to get it. When I lived in the Valley I would go and place flowers and clean their stone and the stones of others I knew out there. I knew the second they passed on that their soul was with the Lord. Now when I think of them and want to talk to them I do it while driving down the road, or at home sitting in the recliner or wherever I might be. I will always miss them as long as I am breathing, here in my temporary place, but someday I will see them again.

Everyone mourns in so many different ways, and each way should be respected, whether we think it’s the right way or not. That’s why God made each of us different. Oh, to be a child again and think like a child, not complicated!

I wish we could all be like that.

Always remember that God gives us seven days a week and twenty-four hours in each day, and we must choose how to spend the time that God has given us.

Happy New Year to all and may God bless all.

An afterthought: Alyce is employed in one of the most stressful occupations that exist in any society. She works as a Correction Officer in a state facility in South Texas, in close contact with people that are in prison because they look on life from a different aspect than most people, and Alyce would be the first to admit that without God at her back, she could not continue to endure the daily stress under which she labors.

 

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Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Cemetery scene: Having lovingly placed a bouquet of roses at the head of a grave, the visitor to the cemetery watched smilingly as an elderly Oriental man lovingly placed a steaming bowl of rice and chopsticks at the head of a nearby grave, and then asked him at what time he figured his friend would come up to eat the rice. The other man replied, “He will come up at the same time your friend comes up to smell the roses.”

Having set the scene, I will continue with this posting. On this cold blustery day in San Antonio, Texas I traveled twelve miles from my home to Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I placed fresh flowers on the grave of a great lady that was transported from this earthly realm to her just reward in God’s heavenly realm on the evening of Thursday, November 18, 2010 just one month and eight days before her seventy-ninth birthday. Our three daughters were present at her death, at her memorial and her interment, but unforeseen circumstances prevented them from being with me to visit her on this day.

Today is my wife’s birthday. She was born December 26, 1931 on an icy Saturday in a small south Georgia town. We met in 1952 and were married just four months later on a Saturday afternoon on the thirteenth day of December in 1952, and we completed fifty-eight years of marriage thirteen days ago on the thirteenth of this month, December of the year 2010.

To complete the fifty-eight years of marriage I included the days between her death on 18 November and our wedding anniversary date of 13 December. I included those days because we remain married and will always remain married, albeit on a spiritual level rather than on a physical level.

We are separated physically but our spirits are intertwined, an inextricable unity that will never be separated. I refuse to allow our marriage to dissolve simply because we exist in separate realms. Her spirit—her soul—has returned to God from whence it came. She is in heaven with Him and I remain on earth. I am well aware that adherence to our marriage vows will be more difficult for me than for her, but I readily accept the challenge and I will not falter.

I still wear my wedding ring on the ring finger of my left hand, and when I join my wife in the grave that contains her earthly remains—the same grave that will contain mine throughout eternity—that ring will still be in place.  If it should be lost I will replace it, and if that replacement is lost I will purchase another, as many times as necessary. I also wear my wife’s 1949 high school graduation ring on the little finger of my right hand. That one will be a bit more difficult to replace, but I will make the effort should it happen.

Yes, in the same grave—with space at a premium in our national military cemeteries, husbands and wives share the same burial plot. I have no problem with that procedure, nor does my wife. We have discussed it at length over the past several years, and we agreed with the premise that the closer, the better. And on the subject of matter, the contents of our grave constitute mortal material matter only, as do the contents of every grave.

The immortal essence of that matter—the soul, given by the grace of God—was never there, having already gone to its promised reward before the remains were placed beneath the sod—its direction dependent, of course, on certain requirements having been met, a point that should be foremost in how we decide to live our lives.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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The day after Christmas, 2010 . . .

Yesterday was December 25, the Year of Our Lord, 2010. That day was Christmas, the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, hailed, revered and worshiped by Christians as the Son of God and the savior of mankind, One of the Christian Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It was the seventy-eighth Christmas of my life, and the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife near the mid-point of the past century—1952.

I spent all but five of those 58 holidays with my wife. On Christmas Day in 1961 and 1962 I was in West Germany helping my country during our cold war with the Soviet Union, a war that ended in a cold stalemate. That stalemate continues to this day under different names and titles. I was in South Viet Nam on Christmas Day in 1970 and 1971, helping our country lose the war against North Viet Nam.

Just as an aside, I spend Christmas Day in 1950 and 1951 helping our country lose another war, the one ineptly labeled the Korean conflict, a conflict that cost more than 40,000 American lives over four years of fighting, a conflict that ended in a stalemate that exists to this day. Apparently stalemates run in our national history.

Yesterday was the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife, the love of my life. It was only the fifth Christmas that I did not spend with my wife and my family. My wife died last month on the eighteenth day of November, and I spent most of yesterday alone in the house we have lived in for the past twenty-two years, alone with the furniture, decorations, artwork, various collections and photographs, my wife’s clothing and other personal articles, and our memories we accumulated over the past fifty-eight years of our marriage.

I spend most of Christmas day at home, but I accepted an invitation to enjoy a Christmas dinner with one of my three daughters and her family that live nearby. Earlier in the day I visited my wife at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I had planned to place a beautiful plant that our neighbors to the west, the finest next-door neighbors in existence, brought over as a Christmas gift, a beautiful poinsettia. I wanted it to grace my wife’s grave, and I intended to tell her how kind and thoughtful the neighbors were to give us the plant.

I wanted to believe—no, I did believe—that she would know the flowers were there. I realized that the plant would last longer in the home than in the open, subject to heat and cold and lack of moisture, but I felt that its brief life in the open would be better than watching it age and wither in our home—frankly speaking, I do not have a green thumb, and it’s a given that any potted plant will not last long under my tutelage.

I visited my wife without the poinsettia. My previous perfectly plotted perverted poinsettia plan (I really do love alliteration) was abandoned when I stepped outside to check the weather . The air was bitterly cold and a strong blustery wind was blowing, and I realized that the tall poinsettia plant would be lying flat and frozen even before I left the cemetery. I decided to let the plant remain in the home and take its chances with me, with the firm resolve to take flowers to my wife the following day, December 26, the day of her birth in 1932.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, but I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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Carnation Milk & Swanson Turkey . . .

The company that makes Carnation Evaporated Milk did not offer $5000 for the best slogan beginning with Carnation Milk is best of all . . . , nor did the company ever make such an offer, neither in the 1940s nor at any time before or after the 1940s. The company also did not award a woman $1000 for a submission that they loved but could not use for advertising. Snopes gives many examples of doggerel supposedly submitted to Carnation for the contest. Click here for the story as told by Snopes.com. The simple—and I really do mean simple—verse that I learned sometime in the decade of the 1940s is:

No tits to pull,
No hay to pitch,

Just punch a hole
In the son-of-a-bitch.

Now I would like to share with my legions of readers a tale entitled, What I had for breakfast this morning. This may seem to be a stretch from the Carnation ditty, but please trust me—the stories are related, so read on.

I enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast this morning. I dined, alone of course, on roasted carved turkey with stuffing, carrots, whipped potatoes and brown gravy at 5:00 AM on this chilly December morning in south central Texas. My meal was beautifully displayed in a plastic shell with dividers between each of the various components, then covered with clear plastic sheathing and enclosed in a nicely decorated sealed cardboard box.

The box included the information that, if kept frozen, the meal could safely be consumed up to December 25, 1911 and I assumed that included Christmas day. Speaking strictly for myself, I believe that such items can safely be consumed centuries later—if kept frozen. However, pay no attention to anything that I say when speaking strictly for myself—I could be wrong.

In addition to the graphics the box gave directions for cooking, either in a conventional oven or a microwave oven, along with a plethora of nutrition facts including the fact that the meal constituted fully one-third of my daily value of sodium—bummer!

It also gave a brief but concise history of the Swanson Classics, entitled A Menu of Mouthwatering Memories, from its beginnings in 1954 through the year 2007. Swanson claims the title of The Original TV Dinner—based on my limited one-time experience with Swanson Dinners, I have no reason to doubt that claim, nor do I doubt its  claim for palatability and safe consumption if kept frozen—so far.

Thanks to Swanson’s turkey, my breakfast was a resounding success—a piece of cake so to speak, and I penned the piece of doggerel below to commemorate that success. I apologize in advance for any misery that may be caused by exposure to it, whether from the ode per se or by any consumption of any Swanson product by one or more of my readers related to their having read this posting. In fine, I am not recommending this product to anyone. I’m simply recounting my experience of a Swanson turkey breakfast on a chilly day in south central Texas—and simply is the operative word.

Ode To Swanson’s Frozen Turkey Dinner

No turkey to kill,
No gravy to make,
No ‘taters to peel,
No bread to bake.

No table to clear,
Nothing to freeze,
No dishes to wash,
I’m free as a breeze.

A fine turkey breakfast
And I’m on my knees,
Giving thanks to Swanson,
For meals such as these.

I have already apologized for foisting off the burden of my Ode To Swanson’s Frozen Turkey Dinner to my legions of unsuspecting readers, but I feel compelled to reinforce that apology through repetition—mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2010 in Family, Humor, kitchen appliances, television

 

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Listen up, Prius owners . . .

Listen up, Prius owners . . .

Your noiseless ride in your Toyoto hybrid is coming to an end. If I understand it correctly there is now a law, fashioned by Congress and signed by the president, that will force automakers to equip hybrid autos and all-electric autos with additional sound-making equipment. The sound must reach at least 20 decibels, the minimum level of noise that is required to alert bicycle riders and pedestrians, particularly blind pedestrians, to an oncoming vehicle and enable them to take evasive action. Whether the law will be retroactively applied to older models  of such autos is unknown, but the demand by the blind will probably mandate the application of the law to all models—I mean, like, hey, you know, an older model Prius will dispatch the blind and the hard-of-hearing just as effectively as the latest models off the assembly line.

My first thought when I learned about the law was of the bicycles. Unless a bike rider produces at least 20 decibels of sound then pedestrians, blind or not, are endangered by bicyclists. When I was a kid we made a tremendous amount of noise on our bikes with clothespins and plastic playing cards. The clothespins held the cards in place, inserted between the wheel spokes—with a card in both wheels we probably exceeded the requirement for a minimum of 20 decibels. I can state definitely that our system worked because I never—not even once—ran into or over a blind pedestrian or a sighted person—never  even  came close! While bikes can easily be configured to produce the required decibels, what can be devised for fast-moving pedestrians? And what about joggers? Both could conceivably endanger blind pedestrians unless they produce the required decibels of sound.

Where does it stop? Will the mindless drones in Congress require whistling shoes, perhaps, or mandate that pedestrians and joggers carry some sort of noisemaker to warn any blind persons in their vicinity? Our government could require fast walkers and joggers to carry any one of numerous party noisemakers to warn the blind and the hard-of-hearing pedestrians.

Perhaps we could follow ancient China’s practice of having someone run ahead setting off fireworks to let people know an important person is coming behind them. Should we embrace that practice, we could hire some of our unemployed to run ahead of silent automobiles with the firecrackers—this would effectively warn any blind persons and hard-of-hearing pedestrians that may be loitering in the middle of the street.

This intrusion by the federal government into the auto industry, a business about which it does not know doodly-squat, is just the latest effort to expand its control over American businesses. The federal tentacles are reaching into virtually all areas of our economy, with government’s intrusion into the health industry the most visible and the most egregious threat to our economy and our well being. We should demand the right to utilize free social services on the same scale as undocumented immigrants—100 percent including professional, medical, educational, recreational and procreational.

The feds are endangering our society and our American way of life. MacDonald’s fries are endangered, school lunches are endangered, soda drinks are endangered and all references to Christianity are endangered, and the list goes on interminably. I have no doubt that at sometime in the near future the feds will place restrictions on our use of toilet tissue, probably restricting us to a maximum number of squares for clean-up purposes. Just imagine how many trees would be saved should we be restricted to one square of tissue—just imagine that!

In closing, I freely acknowledge that mine is a voice crying in the wilderness, virtually unheard and probably ignored even if heard, but one must press on. One must do what one can do, in amounts however infinitesimally small, to retain and enhance our right to flatten blind pedestrians and hard-of-hearing pedestrians, to pollute our atmosphere, to denude our forests, to poison our children with MacDonald’s fries and the heavily caffeined sodas of Pepsi and Coke, to exterminate the whales and porpoises and salmon to provide feed for our pets, and to maintain our American way of life.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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A brisket for Nephrology . . .

This is a letter to my wife, one of the purest and sweetest beings that God has ever created. Her immortal soul returned to its Creator on Thursday, the eighteenth of November, 2010 at 9:15 in the evening. Immediately after joining Him she left His presence, and anointed with the divine influence of His grace she returned to our mortal world for a few brief moments. Her return is documented and discussed here.

Hi, sweetheart,

I know you’re watching and I’m sure you were part of the annual get-together in the Nephrology Clinic at Brooke Army Medical Center, but I’ll recap the luncheon for you just in case you overlooked some of the folks that attended. It was held on Thursday, December 16, the day that would have been your day for dialysis. You’ll remember that Thursday is the least busy day for the unit. There was only one patient that morning, and I believe that was an in-hospital patient.

All the nurses were there: Gracie, Linda, Irene, Gloria, Jackie, Tammie, Jim, Carver, Henderson and Patti, the Head Nurse, along with Kathy, the dietitian, and Dr. Reynolds, the officer-in-charge of the Clinic. Many of the dialysis patients were there, including the Big Colonel and the Little Colonel. The Big Colonel expressed his sadness at learning of your death, and offered his condolences to me and to our daughters, saying that we and you would always remain in his thoughts and prayers.

Dr. Reynolds welcomed us to the event and asked that we never forget those that are longer with us, specifically naming you and Mrs. Kirk, that beautiful little lady with the short gray hair and the ever-present smile, always commandeering a wheelchair and chauffeured by her husband. She followed you from this realm just a few days after you left us.

Dr. Reynolds introduced the chaplain, and following the chaplain’s brief prayer with blessings on those present and those not present, we lined up at the trough for lunch, and what a spectacular trough it was. The tables stretched at least thirty or forty feet along one wall and each table was loaded—the staff should be enjoying leftovers for several days, probably through the weekend and into next week.

You should be very proud of me because with you beside me, coaching me at every step, I prepared a seven-pound brisket, from HEB of course, and brought it still hot on my arrival at the clinic, along with sauce, chips, bread and four gallons of sweet tea from Bush’s Chicken in Converse—incidentally, there has apparently been a complete change of personnel at that location—I recognized none of the staff there.

Rita met me at the entrance of the hospital with a handcart to help carry everything. I also brought another large framed piece of art to add to our gallery in the clinic. That makes a total of fourteen pieces lining each side of the hallway from the entrance all the way to the dialysis section. I’m told that your “art gallery” is an attraction for other hospital staff and patients and visitors. I know that you and I did not make the donations as a memorial, but it doesn’t hurt that it serves as a memorial to you.

Cindy helped me create gold foil stickers for the pieces, and I placed one on the lower right corner of the glass of each, and I also placed a label on the flat-screen television you donated to the Nephrology Clinic to replace that little dinky tube television that was there. Each of the gold stickers reads, Donated to Nephrology by Janie and Mike Dyer. And just in case you are wondering, Rita still watches The View every morning with religious fervor.

I wish the hallway were a bit longer so I could expand the gallery in your name. I also wish that I could create another Taj Mahal to honor your name and your life, but I’ll have to be satisfied with the Taj Mahal that resides in my heart and in my memories of you and of my life with you. Just as is the original Taj Mahal in India, the Taj Mahal in my heart and memories is a symbol of our eternal love.

I helped the nurses set up the banquet tables (Irene made me don plastic gloves before I could help sanitize the tables). When the signal was given to Come and get it! I joined the long line, loading far more on my plate than necessary, but I admit shamefully that very little was left when I finished. I shared a table with Ernie, his wife and his daughter. You’ll remember Ernie as the camera-bug transplanted to San Antonio from El Paso so his severely handicapped wheel-chair-bound daughter could receive treatment here. He is still following Cindy’s blog and working on his photographic skills.

Unless you were preoccupied in another area, you probably noticed that I visited you in the cemetery that Thursday afternoon. There were few visitors that day, but the machines and their operators were present as always, hard at work maintaining and enhancing the grounds, watering and grooming and planting and preparing new communities for military wives and husbands and for the orphaned children of military families. The perpetual care provided by our government for those families ensures the beauty and the future of one of the largest such cemeteries in the nation.

My visit with you that Thursday afternoon was bitter sweet, as all future visits will be. I accept the sadness that cloaks and permeates each visit, but I exult in the knowledge that the sadness is temporary, because I know that at some time in the future I will join you and our immortal souls will be reunited.

And I know that, in the glorious morning of the Resurrection our bodies will be raised, and become as incorruptible as our souls.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling. I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Mike

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, health, marriage, television, Writing

 

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From the mouths of babes . . .

Special note: This is not a Once Upon a Time story—this is a now story.

Somewhere near the approximate center of the Kingdom of Texas lies an area with beautiful lakes, open spaces and stately homes, and in that area there lives and loves a royal family that includes two of my royal grandchildren, a handsome prince and a beautiful princess, Prince Winnon and Princess Tracie. These children are young and bright, budding intellectuals following in the footsteps of their grandparents, both paternal and maternal, and their mother and father and their grandparents are very proud of them.

This posting revolves around the fact that the royal children are not wise in the ways of the world, particularly in the language of the realm but they are gaining in wisdom, in no small part because of their predilection for asking endless questions in their efforts to add to their accumulated knowledge—they want to know. Both are being schooled in fine public institutions and both are quick to learn. However, in their quest for knowledge they sometimes ask unanswerable questions, and tend to give memorable answers to others’ questions.

One shining example involves the Easter bunny, as told by Tracie’s mother. At the wizened old age of five years, Tracie had a question and answer session from the back seat while her mother was driving. She asked if the Easter bunny was real, and her mother allowed that he is as far as she knew. Tracie said that she believes the bunny is a girl, and asked how her mother knows that it is a boy.

The mother’s answer was that she just always thought it was a boy. Tracie then asked how he picks up the eggs, since he has no hands. With a weary sigh, her mother said that she had never been sure of that point either. Tracie closed the discussion by saying that she  thinks he just puts the eggs in the basket and runs around shaking them out on the ground so the humans can pick them up. I consider that explanation just as plausible as any I’ve heard or read.

Just a couple more Tracie-isms:

One day a prekindergarten Tracie entered into a conversation between her mother and the piano tuner. She appeared from her room with felt-tip marker colors all over her face, arms, hands and clothing and her mother asked, Tracie, who did this to you? Tracie, reluctant to admit that she had done it to herself but knowing instinctively that she couldn’t blame it on her mother or the piano tuner, confessed that her brother Winnon did it.

Her mother reminded her that Winnon was in school and couldn’t have done it. With wrinkled brow, Tracie took a long moment to consider that fact and finally responded with a crestfallen Oh, and returned to her room—that Oh said it all.

One morning while Tracie was helping me prepare breakfast by placing bacon strips in the frying pan, she told me that she wanted to be a vegenarian. Thinking that she meant vegetarian, but knowing that she liked bacon and other meats, I asked her why she wanted to be a vegenarian, and she replied, Because I want to work with all kinds of animals, and then I realized that she meant that she wanted to be a veterinarian.

Tracie’s brother Winnon asked her, while they were enjoying bacon with their breakfast, if she knew that bacon comes from pigs. Tracie considered that information thoughtfully for a long moment, then held up a strip of bacon and told her brother, forcefully, that it did not look like a pig.

And now for a few Winnon-isms:

In an English class, Winnon’s teacher asked him to construct a sentence containing three verbs. He submitted the following sentence, structurally and grammatically correct in every respect and in accordance with the teacher’s request:

A turtle eats, pees and poops in his cage.

One cool day Winnon emerged from the family’s backyard pool and entered the house to warm up, and exclaimed to his mother that his nuts were freezing. His shocked mother asked him where he had heard that word and Winnon, suspecting that he had committed a faux pas and expecting the worst, said that he didn’t remember. He probably heard the word at school but didn’t want to implicate one or more of his friends. His mother explained to him that the term nuts, although quite descriptive in nature, should not be used to describe those components of the male physique, at least not in conversations among genteel and well-educated people.

A pre-school Winnon and his mother were traveling in the car and his mother said they would have to stop at a station to fill the car’s gas tank, and Winnon asked why. She explained that if the car ran out of gas they would have to park it somewhere. Winnon said Oh, and then they passed an automobile dealer’s location that sported acres of new and used automobiles, and Winnon asked whether all those cars had run out of gas.

There are many more Tracie-isms and Winnon-isms lurking in the wings, and the count is growing steadily. I have implored their mother, my princess daughter that lives and loves in that land of beautiful lakes and open spaces, to document those –isms voiced in the past by her children and those –isms that will undoubtedly appear in the future. Many are classic, and all are well-worthy of documentation. Art Linkletter many years ago, and Bill Crosby more recently, were correct in saying on their television shows that Kids say the darndest things!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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A letter to Janie in el cielo . . .

A letter to Janie in el cielo . . .

I fully recognize the possibility—nay, the probability—that readers of this post may find it unusual in nature, unusual because the letter is for my wife, one of the most beautiful beings that God has ever created, a lady that allowed me to share her life for the past 58 years. It’s unusual because my wife is dead—she drew her last breath on earth at 9:15 PM on Thursday, November 18, 2010. Potential readers may reasonably be divided into three major groups, namely believers, agnostics and non-believers. Believers will accept my title, agnostics will wonder about it, and non-believers will reject it. Click here for details of her transition to el cielo—the sky.

El cielo is Spanish for the sky—I use the Spanish term because it suggests the direction of heaven, a place of eternal life of goodness and mercy, located somewhere beyond the universe overhead—heaven’s location is up rather than down. The ancients considered heaven up because the sky and the stars and the planets and the universe overhead are so beautiful, unknown but limited—heaven begins where the universe above stops. The ancients placed hell down rather than up, in the universe below, a place also of eternal life but an evil and unmerciful place of flames and heat and agony, its existence revealed to the ancients through volcanic activity.

How do I know my letter will be delivered? I don’t know, but I believe that it will be delivered to my wife in one way or another. Perhaps she is watching as every letter appears on my screen, or perhaps she checks her mail periodically just as we do on earth. And perhaps it will be delivered by angels, those ascending and descending to and from heaven on Jacob’s ladder, the bridge between heaven and earth, that stairway to heaven described in the Book of Genesis. I believe that it will be delivered because I believe in the Trinity, in the Mother and the Son and the Holy Ghost. My belief is newly-found and a bit shaky, but it grows stronger every day.

Yesterday, December 11, 2010 was a special day for flower placement at cemeteries across the nation, an improbable coincidence and a ceremony that my daughter and I learned about only after we arrived at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. The grounds were crowded with people and with vehicles of every nature, including those of several motorcycle groups, all gathered for an annual ceremony of placing wreaths to honor those interred there, to honor those that have died in protecting our country and those that have supported them in their sworn duties. Click here for information on Wreaths Across America.

As is my wont—my nature if you will—I have digressed, so on to the letter to my wife en el cielo:

My dearest darling,

Our daughter Debbie and I placed flowers yesterday on Plot #47 in Section 71 of Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery, a beautiful place of oak trees and lovingly tended grounds. The flowers we placed were sent by Gracie, one of the dialysis angels in the Nephrology Clinic at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, one of those that loved you and were loved by you over years of dialysis.

Plot #47 in Section 71 is yours, the spot where your mortal remains were placed. Your plot is in the newest section and is not yet shaded, but young oaks have been planted nearby and the area is being sodded, and soon your section will blend in with older areas. I felt that you would want to know who lies nearby, so I made notes. On your left is a lady named Mary L. Sandoval, a military wife such as you, and on your right is a U.S. Air Force member, Chief Master Sergeant Jack M. Thompson, a military member such as I am. I take great comfort in knowing that when I join you at sometime in the future, we will fit in nicely with our neighbors.

All the plots in this new area are marked only with a small card in a metal frame placed at the head of the plot, with only the name if non-military, and the name and military rank if a service member. That frame will be replaced within five or six weeks with a marble headstone engraved with the Christian cross, your name, the appropriate dates of your life on earth and information confirming your right to be there as the wife of a U.S. Air Force service member. The right to be interred in any national military cemetery is zealously protected by military authorities, as well it should be.

Yesterday, December 11, was a special day for flower placements at cemeteries across the nation, an improbable coincidence and a ceremony that we learned about only after we arrived at Fort Sam Houston. The cemetery was packed with people and vehicles of every nature, including many motorcycle groups, all gathered for an annual ceremony of placing wreaths to honor those interred there, to honor those that have died in defense of our country and to honor those that have supported them in their sworn duties, to honor  people such as you, my darling wife. You are among those honored for never failing in your support for me through my long absences from home caused by military duties, including tours in Germany and war-torn Viet Nam, and by frequent absences caused by my later employment as a federal law enforcement officer following retirement from the military. You were always with me when I was away from home, and you were always there for me when I returned—always loving and understanding and above all, always forgiving.

That’s all for now, Janie Mae. I’ll try to keep you posted on events here—Christmas is just around the corner, and you can rest assured that you will be with us—with me and our daughters and their husbands and our grandchildren and friends of the families, just as in the past. Other than the absence of your material presence, nothing has changed. You are always in our thoughts and always will be and yes, also in our prayers. We pray for you to watch over us and perhaps even put in a good word for us to You-Know-Who. I am reluctant to speak for the others, but I need all the help I can get.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.

I love you more today than I did yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

All my love,

Mike

 

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Food for thought: When it’s time to pay the bill . . .

Food for thought: When it’s time to pay the bill . . .

The following obituary appeared in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph of Sept. 16, 1958:

A great poet died last week in Lancieux, France at the age of 84. He was not a poet’s poet. Fancy-Dan dilettantes will dispute the description “great.” He was a people’s poet. To the people he was great. They understood him and knew that any verse carrying the by-line of Robert W. Service would be a lilting thing, clear, clean and power-packed, beating out a story with a dramatic intensity that made the nerves tingle. And he was no poor garret-type poet either. His stuff made money hand over fist. One piece alone, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, rolled up half a million dollars for him. He lived it up well and also gave a great deal to help others. “The only society I like,” he once said, “is that which is rough and tough—and the tougher the better. That’s where you get down to bedrock and meet human people.” He found that kind of society in the Yukon gold rush, and he immortalized it.

I recently spent considerable time on the web, absorbed in the poetry of Robert W. Service. Click here for that site. On its surface, his poetry is just as rough and tough as the society he professed to love, the society he found in the Yukon gold rush. However, if one chooses to look below the surface of his writings, a moving current of his belief in the Deity and of life after death will appear. That current is apparent and can be found in the final three lines of his epic poem, The Reckoning. Click here for more works by Robert W. Service.

The Reckoning

It’s fine to have a blow-out in a fancy restaurant,
With terrapin and canvas-back and all the wine you want;
To enjoy the flowers and music, watch the pretty women pass;
Smoke a choice cigar, and sip the wealthy water in your glass.
It’s bully in a high-toned joint to eat and drink your fill,
But it’s quite another matter when you
Pay the bill.

It’s great to go out every night on fun or pleasure bent;
To wear your glad rags always and to never save a cent;
To drift along regardless, have a good time every trip;
To hit the high spots sometimes, and to let your chances slip;
To know you’re acting foolish, yet to go on fooling still,
Till Nature calls a show-down, and you
Pay the bill.

Time has got a little bill—get wise while yet you may,
For the debit side’s increasing in a most alarming way;
The things you had no right to do, the things you should have done,
They’re all put down; it’s up to you to pay for every one.
So eat, drink and be merry, have a good time if you will,
But God help you when the time comes, and you
Foot the bill.

I hope, and I would like to believe, that if I pay my bills as I go through life—pay them conscientiously on time and in full right up to the time I depart this realm for another—I will arrive with the maximum score possible to be considered for entry into heaven, with no unpaid bills, a credit score over the top and an impressive record of doing unto others as I would have them do unto me, a record of shunning the bad and embracing the good (the image at right is a self-portrait, taken at some time in the future).

In reference to the line in The Reckoning that reads, The things you had no right to do, the things you should have done, I am well aware of the things that I’ve done that I had no right to do, and of the things I did not do that I should have done. Armed with that knowledge, in the time I have left in this realm I will strive mightily—nay, desperately—to do none of the things I’ve done that I had no right to do, and to do all of the things I should have done and did not do.

Got it?

And just one more thought:

I am brazen enough to speculate that some, perhaps many—oh, let’s face it—all of us, not only those that may stumble upon this post—all of us would profit in the long run by establishing and adhering to the plan I’ve outlined above. At the very least it wouldn’t hurt to try, and even if we fail we would perhaps earn points for making the effort—perhaps, and again perhaps not.

That’s my story and I’m sticking  to it!

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in death, Family, friends, funeral, Humor, poetry

 

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Gather ye rosebuds . . .

More than 300 years ago the British poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) created a poem that included advice To Virgins to Make Much of Time. That advice, both then and now, applies to every person, to males as well as females and to couples as well as singles, whether same sex or opposite sex. Because of recent events I feel qualified to endorse his advice and pass it on to the people of today, regardless of their ages. I met Robert Herrick only yesterday while surfing the Internet. I believe his advice to Gather the rosebuds while ye may is universal and timeless. It gave me pause for thought, and it is in that spirit that I offer it to my readers.

To Virgins to Make Much of  Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the Sun,
The higher he’s a-getting;
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best, which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

 

 

 

 

I met and married my wife in 1952. We were both very young and we embarked on a 58-year odyssey in search of the Golden Fleece, as did Jason with his Argonauts. There are many interpretations of the significance of the Golden Fleece but some religious scholars, both ancient and contemporary, believe that it represents the
forgiveness of God, something that can neither be sought nor attained unless one knows God.

My wife knew God early in her life and she held steadfastly to that knowledge throughout her life. I found God only with her recent death. Her race is run, and that glorious lamp of heaven—my Sun, the light of my life—has set. I am nearing the final laps of my race, and thanks to my wife I approach the finish line with renewed hope, armed with the knowledge that a Supreme Being and divine providence exist.

The science of physics tells us that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, and that theorem postulates the existence of another being, one with many names—Satan, Lucifer, Beelzzbub, Devil and others. As one cannot visualize and believe in the existence of a mountain without visualizing and believing in a valley, so one cannot believe in God without believing in Satan, a being that is all-evil but perhaps not all-powerful. If the Devil were all powerful, it should follow that goodness and mercy and forgiveness and pain would not exist.

In that context, the Devil perhaps does the worst he can do given what he has to work with, and given the nature of the individuals concerned—namely, you and me. And perhaps God is all-good but not all-powerful, and therefore does the best he can given what he has to work with, and given the nature of the individuals concerned—namely, you and me.

This posting is not meant to be a dissertation on religion. I have neither the ability nor the desire to convert anyone to any religious belief or from one belief to another. My sole interest is to call my readers’ attention to the passing of time by offering up Robert Herrick’s poem, the gist of which can be summed up simply by the first two lines:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old Time is still a-flying

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2010 in Family, funeral, marriage, religion

 

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From grimace to grin, from pain to peace and from earth to Eden . . .


Janie,
my wife and the mother of our three daughters, for eleven years was a long-time ovarian cancer survivor dating from 1999. In recent months the cancer had metastasized to her lungs and other organs, a spread so severe that surgery and chemotherapy were no longer options. She was also a long-time dialysis patient with a schedule of two days each week, Monday and Thursday, for two hours each day. She had dialysis on Monday, 8 November but because Thursday was November 11, Veteran’s Day, her dialysis appointment was shifted to Friday. We did not take her to dialysis on the following Monday, and she died just three days later on Thursday, November 18 at 9:15 in the evening.

Early in the morning on the Saturday after her last dialysis I was at her bedside and we were talking about going to dialysis on the following Monday. She was very quiet and I was doing most of the talking, and at one point when I paused she said, softly but very clearly, It’s time. When I asked time for what, she again said softly but clearly, It’s time to go. I broke into tears, just as I am now doing while writing this. Choking back my sobs I said that it was not up to her, that God would decide when it was time, not her, and that she should keep fighting until He made that decision. She smiled slightly and sweetly and made no response.

I stumbled on blindly, sobbing and speaking in broken tones and told her that I didn’t want her to leave me, that she couldn’t leave, that I wouldn’t let her leave, that I needed her and our girls needed her, that we would complete almost six decades of marriage on December 13, and that her birthday would be the day after Christmas. I told her that we had 58 years together, all beautiful except for one, and for that year I desperately needed her forgiveness, and I begged her to forgive me—I begged her for forgiveness that I had not earned and did not deserve.

She looked into my eyes for a long moment, then speaking slowly and softly she said, I forgive you, and then she said, You’re a good man. I told her that if she left me I would follow her and be with her, not knowing when but that I would definitely follow her, and I promised her that from that moment on I would make every effort to live my life towards that goal. Her eyes were closed when I told her that and I wasn’t sure whether she had heard me, but then she said, I’ll wait for you, and a few seconds later she said, I’ll tell Jesus you’re coming. I don’t remember any conversation after that. She lapsed into sleep and except for a few precious times that she acknowledged me and others when we spoke to her, she was silent up to the moment she left us.

I had asked her earlier if she wanted a chaplain to come in and she shook her head, but early in the evening on Thursday, November 18, I asked for a chaplain to visit us. Hector Villarreal, a Protestant chaplain, arrived at six o’clock and prayed with her and for her, and for me and our three daughters. He told her that God loved her and wanted her to be with Him, and that He was waiting for her.

The chaplain said that she would draw her last breath on earth, but that she would draw her next breath in heaven. We were at her side when she took her last breath on earth, and we truly believe, then and now, that she took her next breath in the presence of God, and that her spirit, her marvelous soul, never judgmental and so perfect in every other respect, is now complete and happy and whole again, untarnished by toil, trial and tribulations encountered during almost 79 years of life, years that she lived and loved to the fullest—born in 1931, she died just 38 days short of her 79th birthday, December 26. We would have celebrated our 58th wedding anniversary on the 13th of December.

The hospice nurse noted the time of her last breath as 9: 15 PM on Thursday, November 18, 2010. She had lapsed into a coma the day before, and her breathing had become labored, with her mouth sagging open and each breath an audible gasp for air. She was on oxygen, with the maximum allowable flow of oxygen to her nostrils from a bedside tank.

From time to time, depending on whether she seemed to show pain either by sound or movement, the hospice nurse administered liquid pain medication, placing it under the tongue with a syringe. The nurse assured us that the hearing is the final sense to go, and that Janie could hear every word we spoke, so we talked to her right up to that final breath with our hands on her, on her face and smoothing her hair and softly stroking her arms and hands and feet and adjusting the bed covers, each of us in turn professing our love, recalling our favorite times of our lives with her, with all our words interspersed and muffled by sniffs and sobs.

When our daughters left the room, I asked the nurse if she could do anything about the way Janie’s mouth drooped open, twisted and misshapen, drawn down and to the left from the way her head was turned to the side for so many hours. The nurse said that nothing could be done, that it had to be done at the funeral home.

I insisted that we try, and I began trying to place her head differently in an effort to restore her features to a more natural position. The nurse assisted by folding a hand towel and placing it under Janie’s chin, and that helped slightly. Her mouth, however, still sagged to the left and her lips were open and peeled back with her teeth showing. The nurse said that was all we could do, that the rest was up to the funeral home staff.

Everyone except the nurse left the room, but I stayed seated beside the bed with her while the nurse was completing her report, and several minutes later I spoke aloud, saying that my eyes must be playing tricks on me. I thought I had seen a fold in the blanket high on her left chest rise slowly but perceptibly, as if she had slowly inhaled. I watched it intently and after a brief period it appeared to lower.

The nurse either did not hear me or perhaps simply ignored me, and continued with her work. I felt that the blanket fold had moved, but I knew that I could have imagined it, that I was perhaps trying to will my wife to take another breath. The air in the room was very still. The overhead ceiling fan was not on because she never wanted it on.

A few seconds later I again spoke aloud and said that my eyes were still playing tricks on me. I saw the same fold that had moved a few seconds earlier move again, rising ever so slowly but perceptibly and after a brief period I saw it lower. Again there was no response from the nurse. She may have felt that I was so stricken with grief that my imagination was running wild, and that perhaps I was trying to will my wife to breathe, to return to me, to return to life from the other side.

Our daughters had been out of the room since their mother took her last breath, but Kelley, the youngest of the three, asked them if they wanted to come in to see her again. They declined and Kelley came in alone, and as she entered I glanced at her mother’s face and my heart began to pound wildly.

I told Kelley to look at her mouth—it was no longer contorted and sagging. Her lips were closed and her mouth showed a hint of a smile, an uplift at the corners—just a hint of a smile but enough for any observer to see that she looked calm and peaceful and perhaps a bit amused. Kelly told the others that they needed to come in, that there was something they needed to see, and we all marveled at the transformation of Janie’s face—from a grimace to a grin, from a sagging mouth to a smile, and from pain to peace.

When I felt that my eyes were playing tricks on me I was wrong. They were not playing tricks. I believe—no, I know—that I saw the blanket fold move up and then drop back down after a few seconds, and I saw it repeat the movement a bit later.

She did indeed draw her last breath on earth, and it is my honest belief that she then drew her next breath in heaven. I believe that our Creator allowed her to return and draw another last breath on earth, a breath that enabled her to live again, albeit just long enough to correct the awkward position of her lips and her mouth and begin that beautiful smile that she shared with me and with our daughters and with others throughout her 78 years of life on earth. I truly believe that she heard me ask the nurse if anything could be done with her mouth, and I believe—no, I know—that after she took her next breath in heaven, she asked God for a favor and He granted it.

I believe that through the power and grace of God my wife was allowed to return to this life just long enough to slough off all the pain and misery of years of surgeries and chemotherapy and dialysis and several days gasping for breath while under medication for the pain caused by ovarian tumors that almost filled both lungs. I believe the Master sent her back to earth to occupy her body for the brief time she needed to complete the metamorphasis from a chrysalis to a beautiful butterfly, to return that smile to her lips for us before returning to Him. He knew that I needed that, that we needed that, and He gave her the power to do it for me and for our daughters.

Her return to the world of the living, though only for a very brief period, is a miracle because of the miracle it wrought in her appearance. It is for me the epiphany I have longed for and sought for many years. I have always wished for a sign, an unworldly experience I could view as an indication that life does exist after death, that there is a divine presence, that God exists and is responsible for all the good in mankind. That smile on Janie’s face on her last night on earth has given me that sign, and for that I thank God and I thank her.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.


Postscript: Janie is buried in Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. She lies among military veterans of our wars, many of whom are cited by our nation for bravery and duty performance. Janie is just one of many there, but she is one that deserves every commendation and medal that may exist to commemorate her exemplary life as a wife and mother. Her obituary appeared in the San Antonio, Texas Express-News on Monday, November 22, 2010—click here for the full publication.

The request below appears at the end of the obituary. Perhaps some of the readers of this posting will find it in their hearts to support these or similar organizations with donations, and join in the search for prevention and cures for ovarian cancer and kidney disease, two of the deadliest and most debilitating afflictions known to mankind.

From Janie’s obituary: In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in her memory to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, P.O. Box 7086, Dallas Texas 75209, http://www.ovarian.org or the American Kidney Fund, 6110 Executive Blvd., Ste. 1010, Rockville MD 20852, http://www.kidneyfund.org

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2010 in death, Family, friends, funeral, health, marriage, Military

 

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Revisit—11th Street South and a rabbit . . .

I recently visited this posting and found it to be a fascinating and exceptional piece of literature, so I decided to re-post it for the benefit of the throngs that have been fortunate enough to have found my blog in the interim. It is my humble and modest opinion, with all seriousness set aside, that any reading or re-reading of this classic tale will enchant and delight everyone that passes this way. It’s a long read, but it’s highly educational, entertaining and well worth your time and effort—honest!

11th Street South and a rabbit . . .

When I left Plato’s realm of spirits—mind you, I was and I remain one of Plato’s ideal philosophical souls—and entered this world, I became part of a family that included my mother, one brother and five sisters, three living sisters and two dead, and no father—well, of course I had a father, but my parents were divorced a few months before I was born, a situation that technically makes me a little bastard. That technicality doesn’t bother me, even though it has been verbally confirmed many times by many people over the course of my life. Those verbal confirmations have decreased significantly since I retired from the workforce and relinquished my responsibilities and duties as a manager and supervisor of federal employees.

The Great Depression was in full swing when I left the world of souls and appeared on this planet. My brother Larry was away from home, gainfully occupied in building roads in Utah and other western states, roads that in his words started nowhere and ended nowhere. Early in the 1930s he joined the CCC—Civilian Conservation Corps—one of the alphabet organizations created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and helped build highways and tunnels in the western part of the United States, systems that would attract many millions of people in the future to our national parks. Following his stint with the CCC, he joined the U.S. Navy at the start of World War II and remained overseas through most of that conflict and never returned to the family except for short visits.

I have only retained two events over the first six years of my life that included my brother. The first memory is one of us fishing in a creek that meandered along near the house my family lived in at the time, a rental house owned by a local doctor named Box, the doctor that delivered me. Located on the outskirts of Vernon, Alabama, it was referred to as the old Box place—my family moved there from my place of birth, the old home place located some five miles south of town—I was little more than a toddler at the time. If you like, you can click here to read about the monumental event of my birth, Unto you this day a child was born. It’s a well-told tale with tons of family history and well worth your time—trust me!

The other memory involves a washtub in the front yard, filled with ice and beer, and my family enjoying and celebrating my brother’s visit. It also involves a partially filled beer left on a table within reach of a small night-shirted boy, and a set of high steps leading up to the front door of our house. The steps were necessary because the house was built on brick piers in an area prone to flooding. I have a vivid memory of standing on the top step in full view of the family gathered around the tub of ice and beer in the front yard and tossing the contents of my stomach—whatever food I had ingested along with the warm beer I had consumed—all over the steps.

Bummer!

I lived at the old Box place with my mother and three sisters. My mother and the two older sisters worked at a garment factory in Columbus, Mississippi, a city thirty miles west of Vernon, just across the Alabama-Mississippi state line. The women walked a short distance to and from town Monday through Friday and traveled to and from their work site on a county school bus set aside for that purpose. They necessarily left at an early hour and arrived home at a late hour every evening.

I and my youngest sister, a child just 18 months older than I, were left in the care of a lady that lived within walking distance. She came to our house early each morning and waited until the women left for work before escorting my sister and me to her house—she returned us home just before the women were due to arrive from work. With her husband and a passel of kids—my mother’s term—ranging from toddlers to young adults, she lived, loved, maintained her family and helped perform the many tasks involved in farming.

Whether they were the owners or were sharecroppers will never be known, but my guess is that they farmed on shares with the owners. Today the family would be called African-American, but at that time they were called everything except that hyphenated politically correct term—my family referred to them as black folks, or blacks, or that black family—other terms were available and quite popular at the time, but none were used by my family. This was a black family that included two white children five days every week, a boy and a girl, both preschoolers, two children that shared playtime and mealtime and after-dinner naps on the front porch with the family and loved every minute of every day.

My family left Vernon and moved to Columbus, Mississippi when I was five years old. My sister entered the first grade on our arrival there, and I entered the first grade the following year. That year is so filled with memories that I must reserve it for a separate posting, and I will include in this posting a third memory of my brother Larry.

He came home for a Christmas visit from his labors under the auspices of Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. That winter Columbus, Mississippi had an unusually heavy snowfall, and my brother took me on a rabbit hunt, armed only with a broomstick—just the stick, no broom. The broom part was badly worn and my brother sawed off that part. We walked a short distance from our house to a snow-covered field that served as a dumping ground for discarded items such as broken furniture, mattresses, wire-coil bed springs, old stoves and other such refuse. Yes, we lived on the south side of the city, the part that was known as the wrong side of town, an area subjected to such dumping.

This is how one hunts rabbits after a heavy snowfall—one takes a broomstick and pounds on any pile of junk where a rabbit might choose to hide, and chases the rabbit when it leaves its cover. In a heavy snowfall rabbits can’t run, so they tend to flee by burrowing under the snow rather than jumping in and out of it. Ergo, the mighty hunter simply follows the unseen rabbit as it ripples the surface of the snow by burrowing under it, estimates the location of the rabbit’s head—not a difficult task, not even for a southerner, and strikes with the broomstick a number of times, enough time sufficient to render the animal ready for skinning, cleaning and cooking.

My brother only found one rabbit with all his pounding, and that one did exactly as expected, and brother did exactly as narrated above, but landed just one blow with the stick. The rabbit’s forward motion was stopped, and on examination was found to be very much alive, only stunned by the blow but no more blows were struck. I pleaded with my brother to not kill it, and let me take it home as a pet.

And so it was. I carried a new-found pet rabbit home—I never knew whether it was male or female, but just for discussion I’ll say it was a female—perhaps I hoped for some baby rabbits. I had no way to secure her, neither inside the house nor outside, and one of my older sisters suggested I make a leash and tie her to a bedpost, and using a six-year old boy’s imagination, I did as suggested.

At this point the reader should probably keep a hankie or a box of Kleenex handy.

I fashioned a leash from a discarded pair of nylon stockings, those with the black seams running the length of the stockings, seams that ladies of the day were constantly adjusting to keep them straight on the backs of their legs. I knotted the stockings together, then secured one end of the leash to the cottontail’s neck and the other to a bedpost. My new-found pet could move around no farther than the length of nylon, so whatever deposits he made during the night would be restricted to a small area.

Okay, folks, here’s where you’ll need the hankie or the Kleenex. When I went to sleep my pet was warm and cuddly and full of life, but the next morning she was cold and stiff and dead, choked by the nylon that had tightened during the night with her circling around and around the bedpost.

I know, I know—I know just how you feel, but just blow your nose and wipe away your tears. It happened some 71 years ago, and I will say to you exactly what Lloyd Bridges said in the made-for-television movie Cold Sassy Tree. This is what he said in answer to his children when they learned he intended to marry his long-time office manager although his wife—their mother—had been dead less than a year. What he said was,

Well, she ain’t gonna get any deader!

And that rabbit ain’t gonna get any deader either, so dry your tears. I assure you that never again—not in all those years, not even once—have I strangled another rabbit by leaving it tied to a bedpost with a knotted pair of ladies’ nylons, nor have I ever strangled another rabbit by any other method, nor have I ever advised my children or the children of others to do such—in fact, largely because of that sad event I have strongly stressed that all should respect the value of life, both for humans and for the so-called lower orders of life.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, neighbors, race, Uncategorized

 

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The San Antonio Talberts . . .

What follows is a comment I made on one of my daughter’s postings way back in May of 2009. I was somewhat belated in making the comment—her posting is dated almost two years earlier, in August of 2007. Hey, better late than never! I’m bringing the comment out of the Stygian darkness of comments and into the bright light of today to make it available to more viewers, to present a beautiful family to today’s Word Press viewers. I’m proud to be part of this family.

Photos are by my daughter, Cindy Dyer. Click here for her blog at http://cindydyer.wordpress.com/ for some gorgeous photography, with interpretations and descriptions of flora, fauna and a little bit of everything else—no, make that a lot of everything else. You’ll find photos and descriptions of of places all over the United States and various foreign countries including—well, rather than listing all the places, just remember when you get to her home page to click on her Stuff About Me in the right-hand column and get ready to be impressed! I am tremendously impressed by her talents and her work. Of course I am her father and I am supposed to be impressed—but see for yourself!

This is the comment I posted almost two years ago:

It’s 4:00 AM plus 35 minutes here in San Antonio—I’ve been up and on my feet since 2:00 AM plus 13 minutes (actually, I’ve been sitting on my heine at the computer, looking over some of your past postings). Past postings sounds like a food dish—Italian, maybe. Do you perhaps have the recipe?

I am thrilled by these photos of the Talbert family—I must have overlooked them when they were first posted. My heart swells with pride when I realize that through my daughter Debbie, the family matriarch, I contributed to the formation of this gorgeous group. I hasten to add that I was not involved in the formation of the two hairy ones, the one with the beard and glasses and the family member Landen is holding, the devil cat that his mother and his grandmother—my daughter and my wife—call hussy.

I proudly proclaim—a kingly proclamation—that I have, perhaps not full but at least partial, genetic responsibility for the “beauty and brains” displayed and demonstrated by this family except, of course, for the patriarch and the pussy. I am not implying that those two are in any manner limited or deficient in beauty or brains—I simply mean that I was not privileged to contribute to their genetic makeup in any way.

Hey, The Patriarch and the Pussy Cat could well be the title for a television series, a family situation comedy centered around the activities of the title characters. However, that title may cause it to be listed in the adult section of TV listings, so it would probably be best to stick with The Talbert Family a la —in the manner of—The Partridge Family.

According to Google, heine is of Germanic origin—it’s most likely a diminutive for the surname Heinrich. I’m guessing that’s what the hn means in the Google listing below. As Bill O’Reilly is wont to say, “What say you?”

From Google:

Heine Heinrich, 1797-1856, German writer who lived in Paris after 1831. His romantic poems and social essays are marked by his love for the German land and people and derision for many modern German institutions.

How about this? If a son born to a Hispanic mother and Germanic father was unlucky enough to be named James Heinrich, he could legitimately be called Jaime Heine. Phonetic pronunciation would be as follows: Hime Hine, with a long I and the soft accent on the first syllable of each word.

I know, I know—I have far too much time on my hands.

Postscript: The family, including the devil cat, is three years older now and lots of water has flowed under the bridge in that three years. Big sister was just graduated by the University of Texas at San Antonio—UTSA—and little brother is no longer little—he has replaced the curls with an adult haircut, moved up into the rarified air of six feet in height, and is in his second year of studies at UTSA. The pussy cat has not changed—she is still a devil cat!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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A one-mule syrup making operation . . .

I recently posted the story of the death of a favorite uncle. He was killed in a freak accident involving his ten-year-old son, a farm tractor and a grist mill. Click here to read the full story.

In listing the various businesses and occupations of my Uncle Esker, I overlooked his syrup mill where he made some gloriously sweet ribbon cane syrup with the help of  a mule. The mule was tethered to a boom that caused him to walk in an endless circle in order to turn the gears that ground the juice out of the fresh stalks of cane. The stalks were stripped of leaves and dirt and hand-fed into a set of grinding gears, and the cane juice traveled down a wooden trough to the boiling pot. The hand-feeding part of the operation was very dangerous—if one encountered a one-armed person in rural areas of Alabama in those days, the odds were that the person had been careless in pushing the cane stalks into the gears and included his hand and part of his arm into the mechanism. Accidents such as that were rarely fatal, but almost every incident required amputation of the mangled hand and arm.

No person or animal, not even a mule, could be expected to walk in a circle hour after hour and be satisfied with its work and its surroundings. However, this mule was equipped with blinders, a harness with leather side pieces that fit on his head and blocked his vision on both sides. While wearing this apparatus he could only see straight ahead, and those in the know said that it fooled him into believing he was going somewhere other than in a continuous circle. Apparently it fooled him, but I don’t believe that it would fool me—of course I am a bit smarter than the mule—at least I would like to think so.

We kids spent a lot of time hanging around the syrup mill for several reasons, not the least of which was that Uncle Esker would use his pocket knife to cut off joints of the ribbon cane, then peel the outer layer from the joint and cut the cane into bite-size pieces, and from that point it was pure pleasure for us. We chewed the pieces until we had coaxed out and swallowed all the juice, then spit out the chewed part and selected another bite. Few, perhaps none, of today’s children will ever experience the simple pleasure of chewing ribbon cane for its juice, and that’s a shame, albeit a rather messy process.

Another of the syrup mills’ pleasures was riding the mule. Sometimes as many as four of us were placed astraddle of the mule’s back and were carried around and around at a leisurely pace—about the pace of a mule walking, so to speak—playing cowboy and Indians, cocking our fingers and pointing at imaginary figures in the surrounding area and making the gunshot sound with our voices—you, the reader, know what I’m talking about. We even simulated the sound of our bullets ricocheting off rocks when we missed our elusive targets—of course, I rarely missed.

I can’t recall ever being told anything about the process of converting cane juice into table syrup. I know only that the juice was filtered and boiled and ultimately ended up in a bottle or a bucket. The syrup of choice then, and perhaps now, in Alabama was named The Pride of Dixie. Folks in that area used those initials , POD, to describe anything that they found satisfactory or attractive, whether in taste or appearance and if satisfied with something they would say, Well, that’s really POD! In other words, it was at least as good as the Pride of Dixie syrup—okay, I guess you had to be there.

Now you know as much about a primitive one mule, one man syrup mill as I do. Some may still exist in some undeveloped countries but they are ancient history in the United States.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2010 in Family, farming, food, Humor

 

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Dempsey and his dad . . .

Dempsey was one of my many first-cousins, born in 1928, the younger of two sons born to Ellie, one of my mother’s sisters. Aunt Ellie was married to my Uncle Esker, a hard-working land-owner that lived with his family in a rural area some five miles south of Vernon,the county seat of Lamar County, Alabama. He  was a highly successful landowner, farmer, store keeper, blacksmith, syrup-maker, grist mill operator, auto mechanic, self-trained veterinarian and a husband and father.

He died under the wheels of a farm tractor, his head crushed by the lugs of the left rear wheel with his younger son, a boy of ten years, at the controls of the tractor. For the edification of anyone unfamiliar with lugs, they are the huge metal spikes on the rear wheels of some tractors, designed to allow the tractor to find traction in mud and loose soil. One can still see highway signs in rural areas prohibiting vehicles with lugs from operating on paved highways—for obvious reasons, of course. Those spikes can cause significant damage to asphalt pavements and bring death to living flesh, whether animals or humans.

It was an unfortunate and horrible accident, and it was impossible to know with any certainty how and why it happened. The tractor had a power take-off, and its broadband drive belt was hooked up to operate the grinding machines of grist mill at the time. Families came from farms and small communities from miles around to the grist mill with wagon loads of raw corn and grains and returned home with cornmeal and flour. The old-time tractor had no starter—its engine was started by a hand-crank from the front, as were many vehicles in those days, a procedure that often required two people for success—one to turn the crank and the other to operate the throttle and choke to provide the proper mixture of gasoline and air to start the engine.

Obviously the gearshift had to be in neutral when the engine started—otherwise the tractor would lurch forward  when the engine started, with predictable results for the person cranking the engine. The tractor should have been rendered immobile—that is, secured with safety chains or with barriers in front to keep it stationary while it was hooked up to the grist mill—it was not secured in any manner.

This was an accident waiting to happen, and it  happened. The tractor was not secured, and when the engine started the tractor was in gear and it lurched forward. My uncle slipped and fell and the left rear wheel crushed his head. His son either failed to place the gearshift in neutral before signaling his father to turn the crank, or by accident put the tractor into gear after the engine started, and before his father could move out of harm’s way—he was said to have died instantly.

I don’t know my uncle’s age or the year he died. There is no record in the Social Security Death records because this was just a short time after Social Security was established in 1935—I doubt that my uncle ever had a Social Security number. I was a little feller at the time, somewhere around five or six years of age, but I have vivid memories of my uncle’s  casket in my aunt’s house—the casket was closed, for obvious reasons. His casket was one of three  that I remember seeing in that same room in a period of perhaps five years  when I was a small boy. The others were those of my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and another uncle, one of my mother’s brothers. The life and unusual death of my mother’s brother is recorded in one of my postings. It involves my uncle, another patient in the asylum and a metal bedpan. Click here for that story—it’s worth the read.

In those days the deceased lay in state at home for a time, at least overnight, before being interred. This gave friends and relatives time to bring in flowers and food for the family and for the other mourners, and to tender their respect for the dead and condolences to the grieving family members. There were lots of flowers and lots of food at Aunt Ellie’s house—my uncle was a highly-respected man in the community, very active in his church in addition to his business activities, and people came from many miles around to attend his funeral.

I had big ears when I was a little boy—still do, as a matter of fact. I don’t mean that my ears are larger than normal—they aren’t. It’s just that I am unable to tune out conversations around me. I dislike dining at cafeterias because I am tuned in to every conversation at every table within earshot, and that becomes a bit overwhelming. As I moved around at my uncle’s wake, in the room and through the house and on the porch and in the yard, anywhere that mourners gathered, I gleaned information from people talking in low voices about the accident, going over the details and wondering how such a thing could have happened. I took in all the solemn voices and speculations and conclusions, and because I am blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a fairly decent memory, I have retained many memories of the event.

One of my most vivid memories of my Uncle Esker is of his huge barn across the highway from his house. I went with him one morning to feed the animals and to see the foal that he told me had been born the day before. It was a beautiful colt, brown with white markings. I stood in awe of the foal and my uncle asked me if I would like to have one like that. I answered in the affirmative, of course, and he told me that the colt was mine, but that I would have to wait until it grew up a bit before I could claim it.

No way—I claimed that colt that same day, and I could hardly wait to tell all my friends about my pony. I was the only kid in my circle and on my block and maybe in the entire city of Columbus, Mississippi that could claim to be the owner of such an animal, and I got as much mileage as I could with the information. My uncle died soon after the gift was made, and since he and I were the only ones that knew about the transaction, I laid no claim to the colt but I still feel, even to this day almost three-quarters of a century later that I once owned a beautiful white-faced and white-footed pony—that’s a very satisfying feeling—not many kids can make that claim!

I was not around Dempsey very much, and I didn’t know him well. I have no way of knowing how well he coped with the  knowledge that he was complicit in his father’s death. He died in 1977 at the age of 69 so whatever he felt and how he coped with his part of the accident is of no consequence now. We were four years apart in age, and few ten year old boys have much in common with six year old boys. I may have seen him three or four times in later years, but it would have been for very limited periods. The only concrete knowledge I have about him is that he worked in Birmingham, Alabama for Bama Foods, a company that produced jams and jellies for home and commercial consumption, as did most of my relatives from that period. I and my family have used their products for many years and I can highly recommend them—and no, I do not have any stock in the company!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2010 in Childhood, death, drivers, Family, food, funeral

 

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Re: 60 miles on one gallon of diesel . . .

Earlier this month I posted a story about a rabbit that thrived on diesel fuel—not a real rabbit, of course—this was a Volkswagen Rabbit that performed heroically for our family in the years between 1978 and 1984. I would like to believe that it is still performing, some 26 years after I donated it to the Salvation Army in McAllen, Texas—could be—who knows?

Click here to read about the Rabbit’s ability to travel 60 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel.

For a related story about the car, A Rabbit with an attitude, click here.

What follows is a comment from one of my three daughters, the princess that lives in a Dallas suburb with her husband, her son, her daughter and a Blue-heeled Australian Shepherd named Wrigley, along with various insects and other creepy-crawly specimens collected by her daughter. I felt that my daughter’s comment, combined with my response, qualified for a separate posting. My daughter also has a WordPress blog. She started off at top speed then came to an abrupt stop, but the initial posting is well worth the read. Click here for her posting about the Easter bunny.

This is my daughter’s comment:

What I remember most about this car was driving to San Antonio to buy the car. You and mom dumped—okay, dropped—us off at the movies to see “Jaws.” Cindy and I sat through one showing and you didn’t show up—we sat through another showing and you still hadn’t come back to pick us up. Halfway through the third showing you proudly came into the theater with the great news that you had bought the car. I am sure that seeing Jaws two and one-half times has something to do with my fear of being ripped to shreds by a shark—that and my overactive imagination.

This is my response to her comment:

Sorry about that, but thanks for your comment. It taught me a new word—galeophobia. Had I been asked the meaning of that word before now, I would have guessed that it meant a fear of strong winds—tornados, hurricanes, summer breezes wafting o’er the meadows, etc. For your edification—if needed—and that of the hordes of viewers stampeding and elbowing one another in their efforts to gain access to my blog, I am including Wikipedia’s take on fear of sharks—click here for the Wikipedia web site.

From Wikipedia:

Fear of sharks: Excessive and persistent fear of sharks is termed galeophobia. Sufferers from this phobia experience anxiety even though they may be safe on a boat or in an aquarium or on a beach. Hollywood films depicting sharks as calculating, vengeful diabolical monsters have no doubt enkindled the fear of sharks in many persons. So have validated reports of sharks venturing into rivers and lakes.

Most of the more than 300 species of sharks rarely attack swimmers and scuba divers. However, great white sharks, hammerhead sharks and tiger sharks will attack on occasion, especially if they detect blood in the water. More than 60 percent of the victims of shark attacks survive. Oddly, the largest of all sharks, the whale shark, feeds on plankton and has no appetite for human flesh.

The term “galeophobia” is derived from the Greek words “galeos” (shark with markings resembling those on a weasel) and “phobos” (fear). “Galeophobia” is also sometimes used as alternate term for ailurophobia, fear of cats, because the Greek word “galeos” is derived from “galee,” a Greek meaning “polecat” and “weasel.”

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Postscript: I stumbled upon a website that featured a Panama-brown Rabbit owned by a lover of Panama-brown Rabbits. Click here to view multiple photos—this car differs from my rabbit only in the number of doors—mine had four—and its fuel requirements. The owner doesn’t say, but I believe this is a gasoline model. My Rabbit was configured for diesel fuel.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2010 in cars, drivers, Family

 

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A father and daughter story . . .

A special introduction to this posting:

I have multiple reasons for making this posting. As with almost every posting that I make, my intention is to record significant moments in my life for the benefit of my daughters. Many of those moments occurred before my girls were born, and I consider this the ideal vehicle in which to store those moments to make them available at the touch of a computer key. In this instance it is also an effort to educate others. The human female’s reproductive system with its various apparatuses is literally the source of life—it is mankind’s future, and its various components are probably some of the most complex and most misunderstood areas that exist in our society. I can state unequivocally and unashamedly that I learned from researching the remarkable subject of this posting, and I trust that what I have learned will benefit others that are as uneducated in this area as I was—in many respects I remain uneducated—but I’m learning!

I introduced Betty, a fellow teenager friend from long ago, on my blog in my last posting. Click here to read about that introduction, our first and only date to see a movie, and about me being slapped off her porch and into the yard—it’s worth the visit.

Betty’s father was a commander in the United States Navy, stationed in Washington, D.C. He was almost bald, of short stature and in retrospect he reminds me of Lt. Commander Queeg, the part played by Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny. The commander’s wife and my sister-in-law spent a lot of time in my sister-in-law’s kitchen drinking coffee, smoking and talking about the various things women talk about while drinking coffee and smoking.

Our duplex was small, with no closed dividers between the living room and the kitchen, and people in one area could clearly hear conversations in the other area if normal volumes were used. Low whispers would not be detected, however. Betty’s mother was not whispering when she told my sister-in-law about the monthly physical exam her husband made of their daughter, then twelve years old. She either had forgotten that I was in the living room reading, or else did not care that I might be listening to the two women conversing over coffee and cigarettes. There is a slight possibility that she may have wanted me to hear her, feeling that I would thus refrain from any thoughts I might have in mind that, if converted into action, would affect the findings of the next monthly exam—you’ll understand that comment in a moment.

What I heard the mother tell is this: She told my sister-in-law that her husband gave their daughter a tub bath at least once a month, and as part of that action determined whether she was still a virgin. I know, I know—the only proof of virginity is an intact hymen, but the hymen can be breached and destroyed without intercourse having taken place. An intact hymen may indicate that vaginal intercourse has not taken place, but its absence does not prove that such intercourse has in fact taken place.

Now for the sensitive part of this discussion of a father playing doctor with his twelve year old daughter—how does one determine the presence of, or the absence of, a girl’s hymen? If not through questioning, it would have to be through one or more of the five physical senses, and through a process of elimination we should be able to determine the manner in which this remarkable father followed his daughter’s progress towards adulthood.

If one were inclined to do so, as was Betty’s father, the intact hymen can be easily examined through a combination of our physical senses. Betty was probably treated to a warm bath shortly after we returned home from the movies, and I hasten to add that had the examination produced unsatisfactory results I might have been suspect, but I was in no way involved in the above mentioned area, nowhere even close. It could well be, of course, that I lusted in my heart, just as former president Jimmy Carter, in his interview with Playboy magazine, said that he was inclined to do. Incidentally, Jimmy and Rosalyn have been married for 64 years—I congratulate and salute them!

In our search for the hymen we can eliminate the auditory sense, that of hearing—contrary to The Vagina Monologues, history holds no record of a talking vagina. We can also eliminate the gustatory and olfactory senses—neither would in any way confirm the presence, absence or condition of the hymen.

Through our scientific elimination of three of our five physical senses, we are left with the visual and tactile sense, our senses of sight and touch. The only sensible way to confirm the presence or the absence of the hymen is by combining the human senses of seeing and touching. If the hymen is there it can be seen and touched, and that combination will detect and confirm its existence and its condition, or its absence.

The story told in this posting is true. If Betty’s mother and father are still alive, both are well past the century mark in age and if still living, Betty would be in her seventh decade of life, far beyond any fear of her father failing to find an intact hymen. I wish them all well, whatever their condition or location.

Postscript: I posted this story in an effort to educate and perhaps, with a smattering of humor to entertain, and I make no apology to anyone that may be troubled by this posting in regards to their standards of decency. If you are offended by the subject matter, I offer the world of WordPress for your consideration. Use the search feature—Search WordPress.com—you’ll find every sexual act known to mankind, discussed in street language, not once, not twice but thousands of times. Wade through that compendium of filth, then compare my work to those entries—in comparison my efforts should earn, at the very least, honorable mention in the annual quest for a Nobel prize.

That’s my story, and in the words of Steve McQueen in his masterful performance in the movie Tom Horn, I’ll have nothing further to say about that.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
 

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Betty and Super Suds . . .

Betty lived with her mother and father in a Carry Homes duplex in Suitland, Maryland, the same duplex in which I lived with my brother and his family. The units were identical with living room, combination kitchen and dining, two bedrooms and one bath. I was an underdeveloped lad of barely fourteen years, and she was an overdeveloped lass of twelve, but well on the way to thirteen. She had black hair and blue eyes, with a face and figure that—well, let’s just say that she was twelve going on twenty-one.

She spoke with a pronounced lisp, and I teased her unmercifully about it. She seemed to tolerate the teasing, but at some point I went too far with it—that is the subject of this posting.

A fateful day came to pass in my relationship—make that my friendship—with Betty, a day during which I learned an important lesson, namely that if one pushes another too often and too hard something bad may happen, similar to the adage that tells us that even a rat will fight when cornered.

My sister-in-law asked me to go next door and see if our neighbor, Betty’s mother, could spare a cup of laundry powder. I dutifully went next door, rang the bell, stepped back and sat down on the hip-height railing of the small covered porch. Betty came out, slammed the door behind her and told me forcefully in an angry tone, “My teacher thed I do not lithp, tho there!”

I was taken aback by her tone and the words but I recovered nicely, and mindful of my assignment to borrow washing powder I said, “My thister-in-law wanth to borrow thum Thuper Thudth,” and Betty hit me. I never knew whether she slapped me or used her fist, but it made no difference. I flipped over the railing and landed on the ground, shaken but unhurt, extremely remorseful and mortified knowing what a spectacle I made. I looked around carefully but my discomfiture had apparently gone unnoticed. I told my sister-in-law that nobody was home next door.

It took some time to restore my friendship with Betty, with me making all the overtures, but after awhile she forgave me. Her forgiveness was based on my cross my heart and hope to die statement that I would never again mention her lisp, the one that she did not have. We even managed to tolerate each other through a full-length black-and-white movie starring a Hollywood cowboy that many years later would become president of the United States. This would be our one and only sojourn away from the watchful eyes of her mother and father.

Yep, we saw Ronald Reagan in one of his better appearances on-screen—King’s Row, a film in which Reagan is crushed by a boxcar and loses both his legs, amputated needlessly by a surgeon that hated him. Cutting the legs from under Ronald Reagan was quite an accomplishment, something that the Democrats could not accomplish in the eight years that Reagan was president, and they tried very hard over those eight years.

But I digress—Betty wanted to see a certain movie, and my brother allowed me to use his Chevrolet two-ton dump truck to take her to the theater in downtown Washington, D.C. A full-grown dump truck—a really romantic touch, huh?

Thinking back on that evening I am reminded of a little ditty my brother used to sing—I have forgotten the last line of that little ditty, and I can’t think of a word that rhymes with front, and that’s probably a good thing. This is just one stanza of a very long string of stanzas of the same ilk—I’ll share others whenever the opportunity arises. One of them involves an elephant at the circus—that’s one of my favorites.

I took my girl to the movies,
We sat away down in front,
And every time the lights went out,
I’d grab her by the (I’ve forgotten the last word).

Tickets for children under thirteen were half price. I bought two half-price tickets, gave Betty hers and we entered the theater. The old grouch taking tickets inside asked me how old I was, and I said twelve. He sneered and said something on the order of, Yeah, right, twelve years old with a voice like that, sure you are. However, he halved my ticket and returned the stub. He obviously had no problem with Betty’s age, although he lingered long in looking at her, then took her ticket and halved it without comment. The old fellow was obviously biased in favor of young females.

Over the years I have come to suspect that Betty was born to her parents out of wedlock, at least three years before they married—well at least two years and nine months—so they waited almost three years before they started counting her age. Given that supposition, that would make Betty at least fifteen years old when I knew her.

Hey, it sounds plausible to me—I have not seen another twelve year old girl in the ensuing sixty-four years that could hold a candle to Betty in grown-up looks. Evidently the years between twelve and fifteen are quite favorable to the female of the species—the same span of years did very little for me.

More on Betty in a later posting, a rousing tale—so to speak—of the monthly physical exams to which she was required to submit, examinations performed by her father—I’ll bet that got your attention!

Stay tuned—I’ll get back to you later with more details, but just as a teaser, had there been a child protective service in those days the family would be broken up, leaving Betty with her mother and her father in jail.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2010 in Childhood, Family, friends, Humor

 

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An ode to newlyweds . . .

The comment that follows is one that I posted concerning a photograph of newlyweds my daughter placed on her blog. The middle one of three daughters, she is the one that lives, loves, laughs, labors and lingers with her husband in Northern Virginia (my favorite  daughter and my favorite son-in-law, but don’t tell the others). Click here to see her original post entitled,  After the rain . . .

Before making the comment I e-mailed her for permission to use the photograph and to provide an advance reading of the comment. This is the comment as I posted it:

I have labored long and strong to produce this comment. Brilliant poetry does not come easy for semi-literate persons—it takes a lot of erasing and changing, and I’m submitting it for your consideration. Depending on your decision—to keep or delete—that is the question.

I will either post it verbatim or I will return it to the bowels of my brain and save it for some other use, but mark my words: It will be published, somewhere for some reason, without photos, of course. I may submit it for competition in the search for the world’s best poem.

A beautiful bubbly bride in a gorgeous gown, a handsome, albeit hairless, groom with the Garden of Eden beckoning in the background—one cannot resist speculating on whether at the end of the ceremony the couple will go hence, as did Adam and Eve, into the Garden—into the bushes, so to speak—and if such be the case that gown, already precariously balanced and threatening to succumb to the effects of gravity, will quickly be weighted down with beggar lice and cockle burrs, and that weight added to the pull of the earth’s center and the predictable possibility of the groom stepping on the gown’s train, accidentally of course, will produce predictable results, and from that spurious speculation springs a poetical predilection:

An ode to newlyweds

Hark! What is that I see?
Is that an apple on yon tree?

And does a serpent nearby lurk,
Upon its lips an evil smirk?

And will that tale of Bible lore,
As in the long gone days of yore,

Perhaps repeat itself once more?

Hark! Not from that apple on the tree,
Nor from the serpent hanging ‘round,

Did life began for thee and me,
‘Twas from that pear on the ground.

Anonymous? Not really. I’m guilty. I wrote it. All by myself.

The poem includes one homonym—betcha  can’t find it!

Just a tiny hint: It’s one of a pair of words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings—note the word pair in this sentence and the word pear in the poem.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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I think she may be dead . . .

When I worked at the Port of Progreso in the Rio Grande Valley south of  Weslaco, Texas there was a large asphalt-paved parking lot directly behind the Customhouse, paved expressly for visitors that wanted to park and walk across the bridge connecting the United States and the town of Las Flores in Mexico. Most visitors to the Valley had heard some of the horror stories of driving in Mexico and many were reluctant to drive across—well, not just reluctant—they were afraid to drive across the bridge.

One afternoon while I was doing sidewalk duty—checking pedestrians returning from Mexico—an elderly gentleman, a winter tourist, approached me from the parking lot and asked me if I could go with him to check on his wife. He explained that his wife was sleepy and had stayed in the car while he walked across the bridge, and when he returned he could not awaken her. He said that he thought she might be dead.

I called for a relief at my position and asked another inspector to accompany me and the tourist to check on his wife. We found her sitting upright behind the wheel, but unmoving. The windows were down and there was a definite odor in the area. No, not the odor of death, but certain odors that are associated with death. When a person dies, any controls that the person may have had over body functions such as bowel movements and bladder contents are gone.

Normally when death occurs, the sphincter muscle relaxes and the contents of the lower bowel are expelled, and the bladder is emptied. The other inspector could not find a pulse at the carotid artery, and the woman’s skin already showed the evidences of death—no flow of blood and oxygen to the skin, especially to the upper extremities. When the elderly husband asked in a quavering voice if she was dead, the inspector replied that she was indeed dead. The husband seemed to be in control of his emotions, but I imagine that the full impact of his wife’s death had not yet struck him—the real emotions would probably come later.

We made the husband comfortable in the Customhouse and made the necessary phone calls to the proper authorities. I went off duty before they arrived, and I took my leave from the grieving husband with his thanks ringing in my ears.

This is only one brief instance of one busy day in the six years that I worked as a trainee and journeyman Customs inspector at the Port of Progreso, and there are many stories to follow, all true and I hope, interesting to a viewer—stay tuned!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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Dessie, my favorite aunt . . .

I remember all my maternal aunts—my mother’s sisters—except for the one named Vera, a young woman that died in childbirth or shortly afterward, unmarried and outlawed by family and friends. Pregnancy without benefit of clergy was socially unacceptable and frowned on in the early years of the twentieth century.

My aunt Vera’s baby boy was taken in and brought up by Vera’s mother—my maternal grandmother, a short stout white-haired whirlwind of energy that seemed to take great delight in applying a peach tree switch to the derrieres and legs of recalcitrant grandchildren, girls and boys alike. I was one of the most recalcitrant of the bunch, and was dealt with accordingly.

My grandmother’s name was Viola, but her nickname was Odie and she was called Miss Odie by all, including me and the other grandchildren. I intend to devote and dedicate a separate posting to her at a later date, so stay tuned—it will be worth the watch and wait!

My favorite of my mother’s sisters, for various reasons was Aunt Dessie. Two of those reasons were her daughters, both a few years older than I—my first cousins and by far the prettiest of the entire gaggle of cousins. I’m speaking of the female cousins, of course. There may have been male cousins that were more beautiful, or at least as beautiful, but I was not then, nor am I now, into recognizing and interpreting beauty in males, cousins or otherwise, not even if some had sported the marbleized features of a Michelangelo.

For several years in my early boyhood, the years between my age of six to the age of nine, Aunt Dessie lived, with her two beautiful daughters and her city police officer husband, next door to me and my family. Aunt Dessie was always, in my memories of the earlier years, a lady of ample proportions and a lady afflicted, or perhaps gifted, depending on one’s point of view, with a pronounced proclivity to accumulate and produce intestinal gases. She and my mother and my two elder sisters would frequently get together in her living room to sit on a sofa, form a quartet and sing gospel songs.

I didn’t hang around to listen to their singing because the vocals were sometimes punctuated with the release of said intestinal gases, but never was a note dropped nor any mention made of the activity by the other singers. Not all the punctuations were audible but the lean to the right was unmistakable—politically speaking she always leaned to the left, but for that purpose she usually leaned to the right because she was usually seated to the right of the others.

My aunt would sort of hitch up one cheek and tilt slightly to the opposite side to accommodate the action. Evidently the other two women had grown inured to the effect but I had not, and therefore did not long linger in the living room, regardless of the quality of the singing. I always found something to do or watch outside, something more interesting and more rewarding, both on auditory and olfactory levels.

Well, that’s enough of the religious references. I liked my aunt’s husband. He worked with the city for many years as a uniformed patrolman and drove a black-and-white in the performance of his duties. On more than one occasion he pulled up beside me and suggested that I return home because I had no business in whatever particular part of town I had wandered into. I usually followed his advice and headed in the direction of home, but depending on the circumstances I sometimes reversed my direction when the cruiser was out of sight.

I don’t know how much a uniformed police officer made in those days, but it must have been considerable. My aunt’s home was nicely furnished, and she and her daughters were always dressed in the latest fashions and had all the evidences of an upper-class family, including new toys and bikes, birthday parties, beauty parlor visits and vacations.

I often heard the adults in my family and their friends speculating on the source of my aunt’s family income and the prodigious outgo of that income, but the only emotion I can remember is envy, whether mine or that of the others.

In her later years Aunt Dessie lived the life of an unmarried alcoholic widow, a frequent visitor to the seamy side of life in Columbus, Mississippi in an area across the river where several unsavory hangouts existed at the time. As a young GI, just returned from a two-year assignment in the Far East that included a 15-month combat tour in Korea, I had occasion to visit those hangouts several times while on leave en route to my next duty assignment in South Georgia. I remember the name of only one bar, that of the Dew Drop Inn. I Googled Columbus’ night clubs of today and found lots of names: He Ain’t Here, Elbow Room, Hitching Post, First And Last Chance, Gravel Pitt, etc., but no Dew Drop Inn—bummer!

I encountered my aunt several times at different locations, always with a different person and always sodden with strong drink, as they say in the Bible. On one memorable occasion she asked me to give her a ride home at closing time, and during the ride she made several improper overtures to me, all of which were politely rejected.

I drove her straight home, and when I told my brother about her proposals he confirmed my suspicions—apparently my aunt was available to any bidder or buyer of drinks. I never saw or spoke to her again—not that I purposely avoided her—it’s just that I was never again in the circles in which she moved—she lasted several more years before leaving the bar scene and life for an unknown location—I trust that it is on a higher elevation than the plane on which  she lived in the latter years of her life.

My favorite aunt has long ago departed the scene, as have all my maternal aunts and uncles, and I would suppose also all my aunts and uncles on the paternal side of my family. If any paternal aunts or uncles survive, they are nearing or have already passed the century mark in longevity—I seriously doubt that any are still among us.

There is much more to talk about, especially about my aunt’s daughters. I was delighted to see both women several times in later years. The younger daughter was active in the music scene in Memphis, Tennessee for many years. My brother said that she was a high class you know what, a hundred dollar an hour lady—in those days and in that area one hundred dollars an  hour was indeed high-class, considering that the hourly minimum wage was only seventy-five cents per hour. You can click here to confirm that if you like.

I don’t believe the younger daughter ever married, but I know that she had one son in a relationship without, as they used to say in those days, benefit of clergy. She died at an early age, relative to the average life span at the time. The elder daughter, her sister, may or may not still be alive. That daughter lived an exemplary life—she married and had what the old folks in that era referred to as a passel of kids. I don’t know her married name, nor do I know of any way to determine whether she is here or gone to join the others.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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A Texas wedding—bucolic & beautiful . . .

I recently attempted to clean up my Word files. They were filled, and still are, replete to the point of obesity with quick thoughts and URLs and lots of pitiful starts for postings that never matured enough to become part of my official archives, a record that is maintained by my daughter in Virginia, and by Word Press, of course. My daughter is just naive enough to believe that my musings could—and should—be published in book form—an anthology perhaps. I’m not sure that anyone would spend real money for such a tome, but of course I would.

I would probably follow the path of Henry David Thoreau. One thousand copies of his first publication—A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers—were published in 1849, and five years later 706 copies remained unsold. Needing the storage space, the printer shipped them to Thoreau and he stored them in the attic of his parents’ house. He then boasted in his private Journal that, “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.” Having published my tome I would probably make a similar boast.

In the attempt to clean up my attic—my Word files—I found an item that expresses my thanks to a commercial blogger for “showcasing my daughter’s wedding.” I blush with shame when I profess that the item is beautifully written, but I’m not ashamed enough to keep it hidden among comments that I have posted. Click here for the blog that showcased my daughter’s wedding.

This is the comment I posted to the wedding blog:

A beautiful posting and a nice tribute to the bride. Her wedding in 2009 was a memorable event in a small Texas city, especially memorable for me as the father of the bride. I am also the King of Texas, and Cindy is one of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia. I can truthfully say, with all seriousness aside, that my family is endowed with a tremendous amount of talent. However, there is a slight hitch—Cindy has it all!

Her wedding was unusual, perhaps unique in some respects—the theme-decorated tables and the bowered setting, a pleasant grassy shaded area amid towering pecan trees with goats bleating in the background—yes, there was a small island in the backwaters of the Guadalupe River behind the wedding site. The island is occupied by a family of goats, and the goats refuse to leave, not even to forage among nearby resort homes. To vacate the island they would necessarily have to swim—that they refuse to do, and must be fed by property owners in the area. They seem to thrive there and are very vocal when people are around. Predictably they reproduce in order to maintain the strain. The population is consistent because kids born on the island are usually adopted by homeowners or visitors, whether for pets or ingestion is unknown.

As the father of the bride my contribution to the wedding was monetary and fiscal, and I am now operating under a budget deficit caused by that contribution. However, my major contribution to its success was the moment I took to the dance floor in response to the strains of music from Hollywood’s Saturday Night Fever, an unforgettable moment in my life and in the lives of those present—yep, I did it, and I have the photos to prove it—shades of John Travolta!

Thanks for showcasing my daughter’s wedding. You have made my day and brightened hers.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Family, friends, Humor, marriage, weddings

 

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Envy or jealousy—which is which?

Okay, once and for all, let’s explain the difference between jealousy and envy:

From Wikipedia: Jealousy is an emotion and typically refers to the negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the person values, such as a relationship, whether friendship or love. Jealousy often consists of a combination of emotions such as anger, sadness and disgust. It is not to be confused with envy.

Jealousy is associated with that which we have and which we guard with all our might to keep. We cannot be jealous of something someone else has—it’s impossible. Jealousy is the emotion that is generated when someone attempts to take away, to appropriate or to use inappropriately, something that we have. The emotion of jealousy raises its ugly head when our neighbor attempts to possess our house, our Mercedes-Benz and our wife, whether figuratively or literally. We will guard all three jealously—but not necessarily in that order.

From Wikipedia: Envy is best defined as an emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it. It is not to be confused with jealousy.

Envy is that which we feel when we do not have that which another has and which we would like to have. Prime examples of envy would include our desire to possess our neighbor’s house, his Mercedes-Benz and his wife, but not necessarily in that order.

It’s impossible to envy something we already have. We envy others because they possess something we would like to have. We may envy our neighbor because his house is larger than ours, his Mercedes-Benz is newer than ours and his wife is prettier than ours—not necessarily in that order—but it is impossible for us to be jealous.

The difference between envy and jealousy is very simple and very easy to understand. Given that simplicity and ease of understanding, why do so many people misuse the terms? Is it because such people know the difference and don’t really care to be accurate in describing emotions? Or is it because their education is sadly lacking in the teaching and learning process of the usage of those two terms? In my experience the talking heads on television are the most frequent users of the terms envy and jealousy, and are by far the most consistent offenders of their definitions.

Alas—so many errors and so little time to correct them!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Family, Humor

 

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A letter to the living . . .

A letter to the living . . .

When I look over my shoulder into the past, it’s as though I’m seeing things through a kaleidoscope, a tube of mirrors containing loose, colored objects such as beads or pebbles or bits of colored plastic or glass, some with regular shapes and others irregular. The user looks into a small hole at one end and light enters the other end, and as the tube is twirled the particles move and create incredibly beautiful patterns. Kaleidoscopes can be found in craft stores, dollar stores, five-and-dime stores, estate sales and yard sales.

When my thoughts travel to the past, people and places and things and words and events emerge to the forefront, remain for a time depending on the reason for my travel and then fade away as other patterns appear—as I twirl the tube, so to speak. The images are not always happy—some are dark and brooding, others are happy and cheerful, and the rest are somewhere in between. Sometimes that which I seek in my memories remains hidden, but will appear later in an unbidden moment, and I cheerfully admit that those times seem to be more plentiful as time passes.

I have always heard that as we grow older we tend to dwell more in the past and less in the future. Not true in my case—my thoughts seem to be equally divided among the past, the present and the future, often uncontrolled until I get them under rein and concentrate on a particular scene, or pattern, in those kaleidoscopic realms of time. In the words of one of my favorite people, the late Brother Dave Gardner:

Ain’t that weird?

Brother Dave was everywhere in the fifties and sixties—that’s the nineteen fifties and sixties—on radio airways, on television, on albums and in concerts and other personal appearances. His followers ranged from those in overalls—farmer folks in Alabama call them overhalls—to those dressed in tie-and-tails. I was in the former group, and at heart I remain in overhalls.

Google Brother Dave if you like, and get ready for a wild ride. His humor is contagious, filled with profound sayings, many, perhaps most of them politically incorrect, especially for that era, and that political incorrectness is among the factors that dimmed his light and essentially collapsed his career—of course his use of marijuana and certain errors on his income tax returns didn’t help his career. Bummer!

You can find him here on Wikipedia. The titles of his comedy albums, shown below, give us insight into his special brand of humor:

* Rejoice, Dear Hearts! (RCA Victor, 1959)

* Kick Thy Own Self (RCA Victor, 1960)

* Ain’t That Weird? (RCA Victor, 1961)

* Did You Ever? (RCA Victor, 1962)

* All Seriousness Aside (RCA Victor, 1963)

* It’s Bigger Than Both Of Us (RCA Victor, 1963)

* It Don’t Make No Difference (Capitol, 1964)

* It’s All In How You Look At “It” (Capitol, 1965?)

* Hip-Ocrasy (Tower/Capitol, 1968)

As I am wont to do, I have digressed from the reason for this posting. I have written several letters addressed to members of my family that are no longer among us, those that have reentered Plato’s world of souls and perhaps may have already returned as someone else, and I intend to write several more similar letters. In the great scheme of things we are not privileged to know whether any of those souls that left us have returned, or even to know whether Plato’s world of souls exists. As all my viewers know, Plato’s world of souls supports the theory of reincarnation.

The title above says that this is a letter to the living, to those that know me and know, or knew, one or more or all of those in my immediate family, the families of my mother and my father and related friends and associates. I have stated before in relating stories of the past to others, that every pickle has its warts— I and my family are no exception to that truism. And it is true—altruism does not exist—even Mother Teresa expected a reward in the afterlife for her magnificent work among the poor in Calcutta’s slums—granted, Mother Teresa comes as close to altruism as one can get—that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it!

I will conclude this dissertation with just three words. If anything I dredge up from the past conflicts with a reader’s idea of the specific people, events, dates and locations I have extracted from the past, whether the conflict stems from the reader’s memory or from being handed down to the reader from others, and the posting offends that viewer, my memories must take precedence, primarily because I was there and they were not. Whatever I say that is in conflict will remain as stated unless that which is in opposition can be documented. What follows is my conclusion to this posting as promised above—here are the three words pertinent to possible future conflicts:

Get over it!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2010 in Family, friends, Humor

 

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Meet Papa John (not the pizza man) . . .

Meet Papa John . . .

Papa John, my stepfather, is a recurring figure in many of my postings, and he looms just as large in my memories as he did in life. For good or for otherwise, he was part of my life for some 28 years, from the time of his marriage to my mother in 1942—the first of their two marriages—until the time of his death in 1970. I trust that el Hombre ariba—the Man above—will forgive me for saying that his death coincided with one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Actually, it was not a coincidence—his death brought about one of the best things because it got me out of Vietnam and home with my family for a month. I had to return to Vietnam to finish my scheduled tour, but those thirty days at home were priceless. That month brought me out of the darkness of the Vietnam war and into the bright light of my wife and my children—the time with my family restored my faith and my sanity and allowed me to return, unwillingly of course, and finish my assignment with renewed vigor.

The military did not want me to have the thirty days at home—evidently my presence in Vietnam was critical to the war’s success. While I was honored that I was so important to the war effort, I managed to convince the brass to honor my right to be at my mother’s side following the death of my stepfather, and I recorded the events leading up to my return to the US in a prior posting. Click on the following URL for more details: http://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/554/

With my mother’s marriage to my stepfather, my family was reduced to four—mother, stepfather, son and daughter. The older son and the two older daughters were safely outside the family, and were influenced by Papa John only through observation and interaction with my mother, my younger sister and me.

My stepfather had a rudimentary education, but over the years he became a skilled carpenter and cabinetmaker. His talents were in demand during the years of World War II, but those demands ebbed and flowed and required several re-locations, from Mississippi to Tennessee on two separate occasions, and eventually to Texas.

Between his job assignments and the dissolution of the family for one reason or another, mostly caused by his alcoholism, we always returned to Columbus, Mississippi. From my birth until the age of nine, I lived in six residences in two states, Alabama and Mississippi. In the seven–year period between the ages of nine and sixteen, following my mother’s marriage to Papa John, I lived in 17 different residences in five different states—Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and New York. My travels involved living in eleven different places in three Mississippi cities—one in Durant, one in Long Beach and nine in Columbus.

I spent 22 years in military service and another 26 years in federal service as a law enforcement officer, and in that 48 years I traveled all over the United States and several foreign countries. Is it any wonder that I don’t like to travel now? And if I do leave home, for whatever reason, I desperately want to be back home before dark!

Forgive me for digressing from the purpose of this posting. My intent here is to talk about some of Papa John’s idiosyncrasies, some of his peculiarities that we quickly learned and adhered to—I’ll mention only a few but not all, because I would soon exhaust my ink supply. He was fifty when he married our mother, so his habits were firmly ensconced.

He saucered his coffee. He would pour a bit from the cup to the saucer and when it cooled, he sipped from the saucer. We were told we could do that when we turned fifty.

He drank directly from his cereal bowl to drain the last vestiges of milk. We could do that at the age of fifty.

He allowed no pets unless they worked, hunting dogs for example, and no cats except for rat and mouse control. For his idea of pets, click here to read about his promise of two dogs for my sister and me as pets for Christmas presents. Click on the following URL for the details: http://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/two-pets-for-christmas/

He was prone to produce intestinal gas in prodigious amounts, and was always polite when he released it. He always excused himself and left the table when the occasion demanded it, but no matter where we lived there was no place in the house that would do much more than muffle the sound. This was a source of mirth for me and my sister, but as we grew older the mirth waned rapidly. Our mother’s response, whether the explosions came while watching television, dining or  after retiring for the night, she never deviated from an exasperated exclamation: My God, John!

He did not use swear words, nor did he allow us to use them. His favorite expression was to refer to a person as a peckerwood, a corruption of woodpecker, I suppose. However, the way he pronounced that word left no doubt that the person was at least some of the swear words that describe people in scathing terms.

He used prodigious amounts of aftershave lotion and talcum powder, so he always smelled good—well, almost always. His use of talcum powder caused one of our family breakups, one that took us from an idyllic life on a farm in Mississippi—talcum powder was the immediate cause, but the underlying cause ran much deeper—my guess would be that he used the talcum powder incident as a reason to dissolve the family so he could pursue activities more desirable than managing a small farm. For a reading of that breakup, click on the following URL: http://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/sid-looney-and-a-model-t-ford/

He was an inveterate gambler, and when enough money had been accrued to constitute a grubstake, he usually returned to Midland, Texas where he was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an organization that was legally authorized to conduct gambling in a state, county and city where gambling was illegal. When the money ran out—and it always did—he took the necessary steps to reassemble our family, ostensibly having seen the light and turning over a new leaf, but actually to build another grubstake. For a comprehensive posting of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and life in Midland, and a recount of my brief stint as a cocktail waiter, click on the following URL:http://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/my-brief-stint-as-a-cocktail-waiter/

There is more to tell about Papa John—if I appear to be dwelling on his less than acceptable manners and his pursuits outside the family, it’s because those are among my most vivid memories. Papa was not all bad—there were good times—it’s just that the other than good times outweighed the good times. There were periods of genuine affection among our small family, but they were darkened by times of affliction. Just one instance of someone inflicting pain, distress and grief on another person or persons, whether physical or mental, is one too many, and Papa John was guilty of such actions repeatedly over the years, particularly on my mother.

I have a sneaking suspicion that with my writings I am saying some of the things I would have liked to say to Papa while he was alive—and should have said—but prudence coupled with fear forbade me doing that.

I hope he’s listening now.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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First kiss, first train ride, first bicycle . . .

A preview: Her name was Joyce, the train ride was from Memphis to Washington, D.C. and the bike was blue.

Events leading up to the three firsts . . .

Sometimes when I look back over my shoulder the past is shrouded in the mists of time, and dates and places and people and events appear crowded together and all trying to be in the front row, hoping for recognition and a trip from the past to the present. Some things are irrevocably fixed in my memory but others are hazy and must be tailored to adapt to whatever story I’m telling at the time. An astute reader may find that some dates overlap—in some instances I may have the cart before the horse, but the error is inadvertent, and I will place a standing apology for such errors—hey, I’m almost 78 years old—I have earned the right to err occasionally.

For several years my wife and I collected gnomes, small statues created by Tom Clark, a retired priest that lives and creates in North Carolina. Folklore has it that the gnomes move around during the night, visiting other gnomes, and sometimes do not return to the place they left. Several times over the years I have found a gnome at a place different than I remembered it had been. Memories are very similar—we search for a thought in the place we believe it should be, but eventually find it in another by relating it to something different—if we find it at all!

I believe that we—my mother, my sister Dot and I—left Columbus, Mississippi in the winter of 1944 when I  was twelve and traveled by bus to Durant, Mississippi, a small town northeast of Jackson. My mother was an LVN, a licensed vocational nurse, and for a year or two she tended a bedridden elderly widow in Durant. My mother’s compensation for that task was the income generated by a large house owned by the invalid, a house that had been converted into several apartments. Her patient also lived there and my mother furnished around-the-clock nursing care for her.

Our family had a furnished apartment at no cost with all utilities paid, and my mother managed the facility. She rented the apartments, collected the rents and maintained the house—anything left over was hers, part of the salary agreement between her and the widow’s son—when the rents fell short of their agreement, he supplemented her salary as necessary.

Our move to Durant was during a period of a forced separation from our stepfather, one created by him as were all the other times we were thrown out to continue our lives as best as we could. A few weeks earlier we were living on a forty-acre farm some 12 miles from Columbus, Mississippi. My sister and I bolted out of the house one morning following an altercation with our stepfather. We ran out to the middle of the road, and he called us back to the house from the front porch. When we refused, he said he was going for his shotgun and we left at top speed, running toward the woods bordering the graveled road we were running on. We stayed hidden in the woods while our mother and stepfather rode back and forth in the car calling us to come back home. We remained hidden until they finally gave up on us. Click here for a detailed explanation of the incident. We left the farm that morning and never went back.

My first kiss . . .

Now on to the salacious stuff—no, nothing x-rated. I refer specifically and respectfully, to my first real kiss-in-the-face, a memorable kiss bestowed on me by a girl that was a bit taller and a few months older than I, and here I will hasten to add that while it was my first osculation, it was far from her first—in retrospect and in view of subsequent similar situations, I would have to give her a perfect 10 in the art of kissing.

Her name was Joyce, and her father owned and operated a small radio repair shop just off Main Street in Durant. Her house was only a few blocks from the shop, and I was invited to a party there. When I arrived the guests—all teenagers and no adults present—were playing a game called Spin the Bottle—the name of the game was familiar, but in all my twelve years I had never played the game, simply because I had never had the opportunity.

All the players stood around in a circle and one player placed a bottle on the floor in the center of the circle and gave it a hard spin. When the bottle stopped spinning, the spinner and the pointee were required to kiss—not a cheek kiss or an air kiss, but a real kiss-in-the-mouth kiss. No, there was none of that same-sex stuff. If the spinner was a girl and the bottle pointed at another girl, the spinner kept spinning until it pointed at a boy, and if the spinner was a boy—well, you get the picture. Yes, we were having a gay old time, but in those days gay meant something very different than it does today. And yes, we were all high, but from the salt on potato chips and the sugar in Pepsi—those were the good old days! Pot was something my mother used for cooking, and crack was—well, crack, whether the verb or the noun, certainly meant things other than cocaine crystals!

I joined the game as one of those in the circle, and Joyce was in the center when I joined. It was her floor and her bottle, and I’m reasonably sure that she had played the game before and knew how to control the bottle’s revolutions, just like the people running the roulette wheels in Las Vegas. She gave the bottle a spin and when it stopped it was pointed at me, and the rest is history.

I would like to say that with that first kiss I heard angels singing, a mighty host on high, but the only thing I heard was Joyce groaning during the kiss, low-voiced but clearly audible, a long string of low voiced uumm, uumm, uumms, etc. I was there, of course, but Joyce had a firm grip on my head and both my ears, and she used my mouth and my lips and my tongue in bestowing the kiss, but I had absolutely no control over any part of the process. I would like to say that I tingled all over, in places that I had never before tingled, but I can’t say that—well, I had tingled all over before, but never from a kiss.

The part of the kiss I remember most is the tongue—mine, not hers. I thought my tongue was a goner, but I finally managed to extract it with only a small hickey at the tip, and I talked with a slight lisp for several days afterward—I also walked with a slight limp.  At this point, in the interests of self-preservation and showing the proper respect to the fairer sex, I’ll have nothing more to say on the subject of Joyce and my first kiss.

My first train ride . . .

Around Christmas time in 1946 I stuffed my pitifully sparse wardrobe into a small metal trunk, loaded it into Papa John’s 1939 Plymouth sedan in mid-afternoon and left Durant in the rear view mirror, en route to Memphis, Tennessee, a distance of 152 miles. With us hurtling along at 45 miles per hour, the trip took four hours. Papa’s plan was to spend the night in Memphis and  put me on a train to Washington, D.C. early the next morning. I could have traveled to Memphis by train, but that would have required a change in Memphis—I have no doubt that my mother insisted on the trip by auto—Papa would have cheerfully waved goodbye to me had the train been headed west to California.

We arrived in Memphis in late afternoon and checked in at a hotel for the night. When we walked in, Papa strode to the front desk, an imposing figure dressed in a long-sleeved western-cut khaki shirt with a black tie held in place with a gold-and-silver tie clasp of a western boot spur and rowel, khaki western-cut trousers, tan sombrero and cowboy boots, twirling a stout cudgel he laughingly called a walking stick, and said, Good afternoon, my good man, I would like to speak to the manager. The clerk obligingly stepped to the back and returned with a person he introduced as the manager.

Papa told the manager that we would be in his fair city overnight and required accommodations for two. Yep, a third-rate hotel located near the train terminal in a seedy rundown section of the city, and he acted as though it was the Waldorf-Astoria. The manager personally made the room assignment, probably with the full belief that he was dealing with a Texas tycoon. As you may have already guessed, Papa put on a good show.

Now fast forward to my arrival in Washington at Union Station where I was met by my brother. I say fast forward because I have no recollection of the rest of my stay in Memphis, nothing of the room or a restaurant that evening or the next morning, or of boarding the train early the next morning—if it’s still in my memory banks they refuse to give it up. I hasten to add that I have not suppressed any memories because of any calamitous event—it’s simply that the interval between the conversation at the front desk and my arrival at Union Station is unmemorable—even though it was my very first train ride, I have retained no memories of it—I remember well and can clearly visualize my arrival at Union Station, me brother meeting me and the drive to my brother’s house.

In the seven years between my mother’s marriage to my stepfather and my enlistment in the military, I was little more than a tumbleweed, moved hither and thither at the whim of the prevailing winds. A shift in the breezes and I was off a tangent or reversed direction, bound for one state or another, one city or another, put off—or put on, perhaps—one relative or another for one reason or another. To put it another way, I was a rolling stone, but believe me, I gathered lots of moss in the form of memories that lurk in the recesses of a brain approaching the end of its eighth decade of compiling and filing people, places and particles of thought.

My first bicycle . . .

The bicycle was new, blue with cream accents, packed in a huge cardboard box, fully assembled except for the handlebars and pedals. My brother brought it home early in the evening, and I removed it from the box and started putting on the pedals and the handlebars, but my brother stopped me. He told me to take the bike apart, in as many pieces as I could, to clean the wheel bearings of their prepacked factory grease and replace the grease with a special brand he used on his fleet of trucks. Then I could reassemble the bike and ride it. I grumbled mightily, but I did as I was told—I learned early on that my brother didn’t back down on any orders he gave.

By the time I broke the bicycle down into its smallest pieces, cleaned and repacked the bearings and reassembled everything it was after 10 pm, but I put the bike through its paces, and rode around the neighborhood for more than an hour. I don’t believe that any gift I have ever been given, or any gift that I have given myself, has ever given me as much pleasure as I experienced that night—well, I suppose there are things that have given me, and still give me, as much pleasure, but they don’t last nearly as long as that bike’s did! And I brought it home to Mississippi, lashed to the rear bumper when Larry and I left Maryland.

Our leaving Maryland is a story in itself—our departure was the result of events that included an illicit tryst of a couple at a drive-in theater, each married to another person, the discovery of that tryst by the husband of the woman, a bottle of sleeping pills and a pint of whiskey, events and elements that resulted in a separation and ultimately a divorce and a division of properties and the custody of two children given to their mother. I’ll get back to you later with more details.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2010 in Family, trains, Travel

 

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