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A simple philosophy for a simple life . . .

I recently stumbled upon this item and its explanation while surfing the Internet, and I felt obligated to share it with the legions (?) of blog readers that find their way to my postings. I consider this simple philosophy equal to—nay, greater than—the combined contributions of Michelangelo, Oedipus, Plato, Zeno, Socrates, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson combined.

A simple philosophy for a simple life, including the title, the image and the explanation below the image is offered up by so many different sources that accurate attribution is impossible. I will, however, state categorically that neither the title nor the image nor the explanation is original with me. I’m just passing it along because I found it both funny and factual. Enjoy!

This is a deceptively simple philosophy that I have been working on and refining for most of my life. I am delighted to say that I believe I have refined it down to its essence sufficiently enough to share it with a select band of friends that may appreciate its elegance and simplicity.

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

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in friends, Humor, philosophy

 

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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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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!

FYIThis 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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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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You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do?

Memories of those words and that question, and memories of Archie Williams, W.C. Fields, Shirley Temple, dirty old men and a certain red-haired office typist—all came together in my thoughts this morning while I reminisced in search of fodder for my blog. If that group has in any way piqued your interest, read on.

I’ll begin with the red-haired office worker, an administrative clerk sitting sideways with legs crossed while operating an old-time word processor, a dinosauristic but cleverly constructed machine that combined mechanical, electrical and manual functions, a machine known as a typewriter. When the machine was operated properly it produced ink impressions, alphabet letters, on white unlined material—paper—a versatile material with many uses, made from wood pulp and commonly used for writing and printing upon but with various other uses and capabilities and sometimes referred to as tissue or tissues, quintessentially used at work, at home and away from home.

Just as an aside, I wonder how many readers will resort to Wikipedia for a definition of the word quintessentially. In the past, one in search of a definition would have referred to another dinosaur, that quaint publication known as a dictionary. Alas, that item is swiftly disappearing from our society, but I have one to which I felt I was entitled. I purloined it from my office when I retired from government service. In fact, I retired twice from government service, first from the military and then from federal law enforcement—the dictionary I brought home on the second retirement was simply a free upgrade of the one from the military.

But I have digressed from my original objective, to tell the story of Archie Williams. For that I apologize and return forthwith and continue towards that objective. From the information given in the first paragraph you, the reader, probably have in mind the image of a young auburn-haired beauty in a mini-skirt seated sideways before an office typewriter with her legs crossed and showing lots of leg, both lower leg and thigh and you would be right—except for the fact that the typist was a young red-haired male member of the United States Air Force, clothed in khaki shirt and trousers showing no leg, belted in blue and shod in black, sporting on his sleeves the three stripes of an Airman First Class, engaged in a spirited conversation with Archie Williams, an Air Force master sergeant, a six-striper similarly clothed who embodied and displayed the unique characteristics of W.C. Fields, an old-time veteran Hollywood comic of black-and-white film fame, in at least one of which films he shared billing with a very young and very precocious Shirley Temple, a child prodigy who tap danced, beautifully and at length while wearing a very short dress, and whose characteristic close-ups revealed curly hair, a cute smile, snow-white legs and significant expanses of white underwear, both front and rear, as she tapped and whirled and smiled enticingly for the camera.

I know, I know—you’re wondering why the previous sentence is so lengthy, nearing 200 words. It’s because I’m trying to equal or surpass the length of the one in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, not the longest sentence in literature but certainly among the longest—1,300 words. Of course, that’s very brief compared to a sentence in Ulysses by James Joyce that has 4,391 words—more or less!

I will digress no more—I’m running out of ink, so I’ll try to finish this posting. I’m reasonably certain that you, the reader, are wondering where this is going so I’ll put your mind at rest. I read an article in a magazine prized by men that in big city theaters that show the old black-and-white movies in certain theaters with Shirley Temple displaying her dancing talent, the major part of the audiences consists of dirty old men. Admittedly, some of the dirty old men simple needed a place to rest or to sleep, and some were addicted to black-and-white movies regardless of their contents—some may in fact have been movie producers, black-listed by Senator McCarthy and forced out of the movie industry—maybe.

My contention is that the dirty old men in the audience felt that the child prodigy was wearing that smile and showing the underwear just for them, and as a result of that feeling they perhaps—alright, probably—reached illegal and unimaginable plateaus of pleasure during the showing, a la Pee-wee Herman.

While I was busy in the Administration Office on a typical working day, I was privy—inadvertently—to a conversation between Archie and the young red-haired leg-crossing sergeant that centered on the typist’s off-duty activities. After quizzing him on those activities Archie told him, in Archie’s replication of W.C. Fields whiningly nasal tone, poetically and in rhyme, You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do? Archie’s height and girth, his stance, his ambulatory movements and his habit of carrying an unlighted cigar all mimicked W.C. Fields. While Archie’s physical characteristics were not controllable, I believe that the cigar and his voice were perhaps props, intended to imitate the old-time actor and indulged in so much over time that they belonged to him and were part of his persona, just as legitimately as they were for W.C. Fields.

When I heard Archie’s question I immediately decided that I had no other business in that office, and I hurriedly relocated so I could satisfactorily react to the question without incurring the enmity of the typist. I never knew the typist’s answer, if in fact he gave an answer, and I did not have the temerity to ask Archie how his talk with the typist was concluded. I did learn later from another source that the typist shared his lodging and his life with an over-the-road non-military truck driver. I find it interesting that in that era I was not aware that my service had either an animus against, or a tolerance for, members with sexual preferences that differed from what traditionally has been our society’s norm—there was no don’t ask, don’t tell policy. At that time, circa 1965, I was in my sixteenth year of military service, and if my service had a problem with such preferences it was never part of my training. Over the years I served during peacetime and wartime with several such persons and had no problems—none at that time and none now.

Archie died in the mid-1960s, and his earthly remains were interred in Fort Sam Houston’s national cemetery here in San Antonio, Texas. Full military services were provided, with taps, rifle volleys and uniformed pallbearers, and I was one of the six men that carried the casket, with Archie safely ensconced inside, a considerable distance through interminable rows of upright grave markers to an open grave, fitted with the mechanical device that would lower the casket.

Archie was a big man that in life would have approached a weight of 250 pounds, perhaps more, and at least partially because of that weight I almost preceded him into the excavation that had been prepared for him alone. As we marched towards the open grave I quickly concluded that he had not been embalmed—had he chosen that mortuary option—not required in Texas—he would have been considerably lighter. Of the six pallbearers, I’ll give you three guesses as to which pallbearer was less tall than the others, and the first two guesses won’t count—not that I am necessarily short, mind you, but I will admit that I was less tall than the others.

My position as we marched Archie, feet first through the rows of white markers, was at the left forward corner of Archie’s casket, the corner closest to his left foot, I am convinced that mine was the heaviest area of the weight we carried, perhaps fitted with a large anvil—perhaps Archie had been a blacksmith in his youth and the anvil was placed as a salutary salute to that profession—he may have suffered from a left club-foot, but I doubt that it would account for the weight at my corner.

Just as we moved the casket to a point directly over the grave and the lowering mechanism, my right foot slipped into the opening and I frantically relinquished my portion of the weight—I became an ex-pallbearer. However, the remaining five pallbearers apparently divided up my former contribution to the operation and held the casket up until I could reposition myself and return to pallbearer status, and we then properly placed the casket, stepped back and snapped to attention, and the ceremony continued and was concluded without further incident. In my haste to return both feet to solid ground, scrambling to avoid being interred with Archie, I soiled the knees of my uniform trousers as I frantically returned to an upright position—the soiling process could have been far worse, I suppose.

I have good reason to visit Fort Sam Houston’s national cemetery these days. I don’t remember where we left Archie some fifty years ago—that’s far too much time for me to be expected to remember his Section and Plot numbers. I have promised myself that I will ask cemetery office personnel for the location of his grave. I want to say hello to him, and I may hear again the question below, the question he addressed to that red-haired typist, and perhaps the typist’s answer to the query—if Archie chooses to confide in me:

You don’t smoke, you don’t chew, you don’t drink, you don’t screw—damn, boy, what do you do?

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

 
 

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Frog legs, pocket knives & hackberry tea

This YouTube video is in no way related to the primary subject of this post, namely the treatment of raw sewage to recapture the 99.9% of raw sewage that is water and make it potable. I intend to end this post with the same video. I am presenting it here to ensure that my legions of followers have the opportunity to view it. If you view the video at this point and are so turned off by it that you don’t read the posting, it’s your loss—you’ll miss a highly educational essay—timely, well constructed and presented, and I say that with all sincerity aside. I know, I know, everyone always reads my posts all the way to the bottom, but just in case . . .

This morning while watching a cable show—MSNBC—I learned that at sometime in the future much of our drinking water will consist of treated sewage. That knowledge as defined by Wikipedia rests uneasy on one’s gustatory palate:

Sewage is water-carried wastes, in either solution or suspension that is intended to flow away from a community. Also known as waste water flows, sewage is the used water supply of the community. It is more than 99.9% pure water and is characterized by its volume or rate of flow, its physical condition, its chemical constituents and the bacteriological organisms that it contains. Depending on its origin, waste water can be classed as sanitary, commercial, industrial, agricultural or surface runoff.

The spent water from residences and institutions carrying body wastes, washing water, food preparation wastes, laundry wastes and other waste products of normal living is classed as either domestic or sanitary sewage.

The purpose of this post is an attempt to allay the fears of those that may be taken aback when told that the water they drink in the future will be sewage, coming direct to them as treated sewage from some remote treatment plant that has taken the action necessary to eliminate contaminants from raw sewage and now wants people to believe that the water is pure and potable—drinkable.

I know that’s a stretch, given the fact that the so-called sanitary sewage includes body wastes donated—love that term donated—by the community. However, I have personal knowledge that the decontaminated liquid may be consumed without fear of the consumer becoming contaminated—how that knowledge was gained is the purpose of this post.

As a young boy growing up between the ages of six and nine years I lived near a flow of treated sewage moving away from the city’s treatment plant via an open concrete-floored ditch—locals called it the Big Ditch—idling along on its way to Luxapalila Creek, a stream that joins Mississippi’s Tombigbee River, a stream that converges with the Alabama River to form the Mobile River that in turn empties into Mobile bay on the Gulf of Mexico—take that, Mobile!

Purely as an aside, the Indian word Luxapalila is said to translate into English as floating turtles. Considering the effluvial characteristics of human waste materials entering the stream, perhaps the first syllable of turtles, accidentally but aptly, describes the water and its contents—how’s that for coincidence!

But I digress—back to the Big Ditch, its contents and the marvelous flora and fauna that thrived—-or throve, take your pick—when I was a boy. The ditch may well be covered by now, or perhaps its contents have been diverted elsewhere. Many years have passed since I was treated—so to speak—to a life in that area and that era. Perhaps the Big Ditch is still fulfilling its destiny as a playground for the enjoyment of today’s children, activities in dialectical opposition to their parent’s wishes.

On more than one occasion I and one or more of my boyhood friends—always boys, although girls would have been welcomed and we would have been delighted by their company, but none accepted our invitations—dined on the banks of the Big Ditch, feasting on fried frog legs and hack-berry tea, a simple meal easily prepared. From our respective homes we brought a small frying pan, a small pot for boiling water, a block of pure lard, our pocket knives, a bit of corn meal, a pinch of salt, a few matches and our appetites to the Big Ditch, a Shangri-la for giant green bullfrogs easily rounded up by a couple of hungry boys.

We built a small fire and boiled water for our tea—yes, we used the nearest available source of water, that which flowed along the bottom of the Big Ditch. When the water was boiling we dumped in handfuls of hackberries gathered from the proliferation of hack-berry trees that thrived on the banks of the ditch.

The hack-berry tea was set aside to cool, and we heated the pure lard in the frying pan. After separating the legs of several frogs from their bodies we skinned the legs, rolled them in the corn meal, placed them in the frying pan and turned them until brown.

Don’t laugh—our culinary talents and our gustatory senses  at our age were underdeveloped and unrefined, and we had minimum expectations that the meal would equal those served in fancy French restaurants specializing in fried frog legs and offering fine wines to accompany the meal—cuisses et vin de grenouille frits—the French refer to the legs of frogs as thighs instead of legs. The use of the word thighs is probably considered a sexual reference by the French, intended to affect the mood of a dinner companion, whether male or female. A Frenchman might say, Mon cher, j’aime le goût des cuisses, delivered softly and translated as My dear, I love the taste of thighs—his after-dinner delights would be guaranteed—dessert, so to speak.

So there you have it—treated sewage can be safely ingested, digested and further processed by humans without fear of damage to their bodies or their life expectancy. My body shows no perceptible damage from the meals of cuisses et vin de grenouille frits, and I am just a hop, skip and a jump away from successfully completing eight decades of living life to its fullest—whether because of the frog legs or in spite of the frog legs is unknown. However, also unknown is the collective fates of my various boyhood companions. Some of them or all of them by this time may have already exchanged their earthly realm for one or the other of our two alternatives.

I must reluctantly admit that the others—some of them, none of them or all of them—may have already succumbed to the ravages of various diseases that were directly attributed to those meals of cuisses et vin de grenouille frits, and I do not recommend such meals to today’s boys, at least not meals garnered from the same source or similar sources—nope, I would neither recommend it nor suggest it.

I am of the opinion that today’s youth, although physically larger, stronger and enjoying greater longevity and enhanced motor skills, are not significantly more intelligent—in fact many, perhaps most, are somewhat lacking in basic subjects as demonstrated by accumulated grades given on an incredible numbers of tests administered by our schools. There are so many unknowns that I hesitate to imply that meals such as we prepared in the Big Ditch increases longevity, but I will postulate that such meals may promote a higher level of intelligence.

Today’s youth lag behind in the three Rs—reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic and their skills in communication skills are deplorable—they are deficient both in receiving and transmitting the spoken word, obviously derelict in vocal expression and auditory reception. I feel that my detailing just one of my eating habits as a boy proves, at least in some degree, that consumption of treated sewage water will not be harmful to us and our neighbors, and that proof has been beautifully presented to my viewers. That’s why I was motivated to make this posting and I feel that I have made my point—my efforts were successful and productive for society.

I apologize for diverting my attention to other problems facing our society and our nation—I couldn’t help it—it’s either in my nature or it could possibly be the result of my being distracted by a cantankerous keyboard.

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

Postscript: The fact that I frequently watch MSNBC does not mean that I like MSNBC. I frequently tune in to get the side of the news and opinions that are presented by other, more reliable and more truthful cable entities. I do not  dislike MSNBC—I enjoy its graphics and its presentations of news that are not permeated with and perforated by personal political presentations, situations that are far less frequent than presentations that are afflicted—tainted, so to speak—well, let’s face it—filled with and distorted by such taints and afflictions. Tune in to MSNBC on any weekday evening and listen to the talking heads in its evening lineup—you’ll be both attracted and reviled by their vituperative views on subjects ranging from A to Z—from armadillos to zebras–but particularly on Cs and Rs—Conservatives and Republicans.

One more postscript: Having clicked on the center of the above YouTube video, you have read the notice that someone, somewhere and somehow decided that the videos violated copyright, and it is stated that “the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement from claimants including Real Clear Politics” . . .

Obviously when I showed the video and in effect compared it with the effluvia and solid particles that characterized the Big Ditch in my boyhood, I stepped on someone’s pepperoni and they demonstrated their ability to exercise their right to censure that part of of this post. I consider it a violation of my right to express my disgust of the vituperative drivel that nightly spews from the show. It’s still on YouTube, along with similar excerpts from other Ed Shultz’ nightly rants—check ’em out.

And just one more note: I understand now why the network abruptly tossed Keith Olberman out the window—they didn’t need him because they had Ed Shultz.

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

 

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Watermelons, shotguns, Red Sovine, Patsy Cline & Viet Nam

This is a sequel to my original post of 13 January 2011. That story involved the theft of a watermelon by a brother-in-law, a born again Christian, and my confession that I had been guilty of a similar offense, but I furnished few particulars. This posting expands on my unlawful actions considering watermelons, namely stealing them from a roadside field a few miles from the South Georgia Air Force Base where I was stationed a lifetime ago—way, way, way back in 1952. Click here for the original post. It’s well worth the read, then come back here for this story of the farmer and his firearm—it’s also well worth the read!

Almost fifty-nine years have passed since then, but my watermelon memories are as fresh as the first seasonal load of melons being off-loaded at my local supermarket, and for good reasons, primarily because my last foray into purloining watermelons involved the farmer, a shotgun and the thoroughly trashed rear seat of my 1951 sky-blue chick-magnet Ford convertible.

On that eventful Saturday night I and my two co-conspirators wisely waited until a late hour in the evening to ignore Georgia law and also ignore signs that many of the local farmers posted along roads bordering their fertile fields of crops. We were of the belief that the farmer would be safely ensconced in his easy chair listening to the Grand Ole Opry on radio, a Saturday night not-to-be-missed event in those days.

As our method required—a well thought out method of stealing watermelons and one highly successful on previous Saturdays—I lowered the top on my chick-magnet 1951 Ford convertible and drove slowly as we neared the field and my two buddies disembarked—jumped over the side of the car—and disappeared into the cornfield on the right side of the road.

Yes, cornfield—this was a combination corn-and-watermelon crop, a common practice in the area. In fact, some farmers added a third crop, that of pole beans, with the corn stalks serving in lieu of the poles that the beans require for climbing and maturing properly. Pretty neat, huh?

I continued down the road for several miles, then turned around and waited a few minutes to give my team time to gather watermelons and place them in the roadside ditch preparatory to transferring them to the rear seat of my Ford chick-magnet convertible.

At this point I must digress to explain the ditch—road building, Georgia style. There were no freeways in the area nor in that era, just two-lane roads graveled or paved with asphalt—the interstate system was in work, but years would pass before multiple lane roads came to that area. The depressions that border both sides of South Georgia roads are called bar ditches by the locals, as in, Muh tar blowed out an’ muh car runned off in uh bar ditch.

I puzzled over the term bar and queried several local natives for its meaning and its origin—natives of Georgia, of course—and was told Ah on oh, interpreted as I don’t know. Having heard the song and seen the movie about Daniel Boone and his bear-slaying ability—kilt him a bar when he was only three—I figured it had something to do with bears—bars—but I was wrong. I learned from one of the more educated and articulate natives—a rarity in that area—that it was a borrow ditch, so-called because soil was borrowed from the roadsides and used to build up the roads to prevent water accumulating on the highway during the rainy season. Thus borrow ditch in English became bar ditch in Georgia-speak.

Now back to the farmer and his firearm. As I approached the drop off point—now the pickup point—I flashed my headlights three times to signal my criminal associates of my approach, then turned off the lights and coasted to a stop at the proper point, and the watermelons began to take flight, sailing over the side of my chick-magnet and landing indiscriminately on the seat, against the side panels, window sills, window handles, on the floor and on each other. Speed was of the essence because we planned on a watermelon party for our barracks-bound buddies the next day, a Sunday watermelon fest to be held in a secret location in a wooded area near the air base, and we needed a lot of watermelons for that crowd.

The blasts from that farmer’s shotgun on that night, on that quiet and peaceful rural road in South Georgia, resounded seemingly with the force of the explosions at Nagasaki and Hiroshima that ended World War II. Well, maybe not quite that loud, but it was at least as loud as the time a certain brother-in-law left me sitting in my car while he disappeared into the woods to go to an unnamed location, saying only that he would return in a few minutes. Click here to read about the explosion that resounded several minutes after he entered the woods.

At this point I will conclude my digression and return to the tale of the Great Watermelon Heist, and hold my brother-in-law’s actions for a later posting, one for which the wait is well worthwhile.

In addition to the sound of the shotgun blast, we could detect the sound of lead shot pellets tearing through the leaves of corn stalks, a sign that the shotgun was not aimed skywards when the pissed-off farmer pulled the trigger—or triggers—judging by the sounds it may have been a double-barreled shotgun, or perhaps an semi-automatic shotgun that held five shells and the trigger was pulled so fast that the five explosions blended into one fearsome sound.

As an aside to this subject, I know that such a sound could have been made, and here’s proof. Many years ago while assigned to duty in Washington, DC, I was privileged to be present at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC when one of the agency’s top guns demonstrated his dexterity and the power of his weapon by firing it six times in succession. The sound of those six shots of .38 caliber ammunition exploding was absolutely continuous, just one smooth roar. When the agent pulled in the silhouette target, it showed that the rounds were all closely grouped in the chest area of the target, a group that indicated the location of the heart.

That’s enough of my digressions and my asides—okay, more than enough. I will conclude this posting by saying that I and my companions in crime escaped unscathed, and our depredations were never made public. That was not our first watermelon heist, but it was definitely the last—we never even considered another, neither in that watermelon season nor in subsequent seasons.

However, the rear seat of my 1951 sky-blue chick-magnet Ford convertible did not escape unscathed. Several of the large melons, tossed in the rear seat under extreme distress—the throwers, not the melons—burst open from impact with the car and with each other, and the faux leather rear seat and side panels were covered with watermelon seeds and juice, as were the combination rubber-and-felt floor mats. I worked half the day on Sunday cleaning up the mess. However, enough of the melons escaped destruction for us to have a watermelon party, albeit somewhat truncated because of the losses we suffered. Ah, those were the days!

This story is true—I know it’s true because, just as was the protagonist in that popular song Deck of Cards, sung variously and in various years by T. Texas Tyler, Tex Ritter, Wink Martindale and Bill Anderson—I was that soldier! If you like, you can click here to read the complete words of the song. It’s clever—I wish I had thought of it!

I know I promised no more asides or digressions, but I must do one more aside. The last time I heard Deck of Cards sung was in 1969, it was rendered by country singer Red Sovine before a raucous, rowdy and unruly crowd in an NCO Club at Da Nang Air Base in South Viet Nam. That in itself is worthy of a separate posting, so stay tuned. If you like, you can click here to learn everything you ever wanted to know, and even more, about Red  Sovine.

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

Postscript: In reference to that so-called chick-magnet auto—I never knew whether it would have drawn girls into its magnetic field because my future wife and I were already going steady and the subject of marriage had been broached, albeit ever so lightly, when I traded for the convertible, and we married just four months after we met, a marriage that lasted for 58 years. As for the convertible, it was traded immediately after our first daughter was born—so much for the chick-magnet characterization.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2011 in driving, friends, Humor, Military, Uncategorized

 

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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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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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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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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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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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My first port director—my friend and my mentor . . .

I began my career with U.S. Customs as a GS-7 trainee at the port of Progreso, Texas and I was upgraded to the GS-9 journeyman position after one year. During that year I learned more from one officer at the port than from all the others combined. Not that they didn’t help me learn the ins and outs of the job—they were very helpful, but the port director and I became a team, both professionally and personally. Almost from the beginning we were like brothers, respectful of each other and each always looking out for the other’s back.

As a measure of how well the port director taught me, I was awarded an in-grade pay increase in my second year and another in my third year, both based on my duty performance, particularly on my arrest and seizure record. An in-grade pay increase is a pay raise given for outstanding performance, and is in addition to the normal longevity raises given to federal employees based purely on successful duty performances. In-grade pay increases are the gifts that keep on giving!

Some ten years older than I, the port director took me under his wing like a mother hen protects a chick—figuratively, of course. He placed me on the right path for success in my new profession and set me straight when I strayed from that path. He raised hell when I made mistakes, and he lauded me when I managed to do something right, such as making seizures and accurately documenting our various Customs activities. I also was brash enough to submit several suggestions that I felt would improve port operations, and upper headquarters felt impelled to implement my suggestions and provide remuneration for my ideas. How about that!

His most recent assignment was at the port of Eagle Pass, almost 300 miles upriver from Progreso. In the latter part of 1971 Progreso became a separate port from the port of Hidalgo, and he was promoted to the position of port director for the new port. His name was Paul, and he died at Christmas time in 1973. His cancer disease was diagnosed in mid-1972 and a scant eighteen months later he was dead.

Paul, my first port director and supervisor in Customs—my friend and my mentor—was buried in Brownsville, Texas some fifty miles distant from Progreso. I was unavoidably delayed at the port and the casket was closed when I arrived at the funeral home. The funeral director offered to open the casket for my viewing but I declined the offer. I figured that Paul had once again been promoted and was already on the way to his next assignment, that shining port in the hereafter, and I was reluctant to slow him down.

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

 

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Hanging and banging . . .

On a memorable day in my career as a United States Customs Officer, I was asked this question by a female administrative aide:

How many inspectors does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Now tell the truth, how would you have answered that question? I know that the aide meant to say replace a light bulb, but that’s not what she said—she asked how many it would take to screw in a light bulb—a rather significant difference in the query, wouldn’t you say? The politically correct answer is two inspectors—one to hold the light bulb and another to turn the inspector holding the bulb.

My answer? I told her that two could do the job, but it would have to be a really large light bulb.

And no, she did not file an employee grievance charging sexual harassment—she and I were, and had been for many years and still remain, close personal friends—so there!

Okay, have you recovered from the sidesplitting laughter engendered by that joke?

If so, here is the second classic joke—I won’t disclose its source on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me:

A female asked this question: Have you ever tried to nap while a crew of roofers hang and bang? I know what the lady meant, but she left a listener with two choices of the meanings of hanging and banging.

My answer: It would depend on the location of the roofers while they were ganging and banging, and also where you were at the time. Were they on the roof or in the house? If they were on the roof and you were in the house, sleep for you would be difficult. If both they and you were in the house, I should think that sleep for you would be impossible—but of course I could be wrong.

Please don’t hate me too much for these puerile writings.

I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

Besides, I’m trying to make a minimum of one posting per day, and this one qualifies for today. Check it out—today is the 12th of September and this is my 12th posting of the month.

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

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2010 in friends, Humor

 

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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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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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Pearls of wisdom, or pearls before swine?

Pearls of wisdom—self-explanatory.

Pearls before swine—idiomatic: To give things of value to those that will not understand or appreciate them.

Etymology: From the Bible—King James version—Matthew 7:6:

“.  .  .  neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

As of my last posting I have contributed 265 posts to Word Press, covering 53 categories and 3,988 tags. The 265 postings have attracted 7,324 visits and garnered 349 comments. That’s an average of 27 visits per posting—that’s not too shabby, but the number of comments averaged less than one per posting.

I have worn my fingers to the bone in my efforts to attract readers and subsequent comments. Have I worn my fingers—and gnawed my knuckles—to the bone and bitten my nails well past the point of picking my nose or scratching myself, all to no avail?

Am I tinkling into the wind?

Should I cease and desist?

I am considering inserting one or more naughty images into each posting—anything to improve my stats—I realize that Word Press would probably disown me, but if that should happen this corruption of Edna Saint Vincent Millay’s poem would be appropriate:

My candle burned at both ends; It did not last the night; But, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends – it gave a lovely light.

I readily admit that my writings fall a bit short of the works of Charles Dickens, O’Henry or even Jack London, but at least I have not  begun a posting with, It was a dark and stormy night . . .

Statistics are sustenance for any blogger—they are the meat and bread, the necessities of life—they give support, endurance and strength to aspiring writers. And trust me, if you choose to render unto me that which I feel is my due, namely cogent comments, do ye also unto other bloggers as well—they crave comments as much as I do—they just hesitate to admit it.

Si mi hace el favor—if you will do me the favor—comment! Tell me if there is something you like and why you like it, and tell me if there is something you don’t like and why you don’t like it. You might want to consider beginning with this posting.

I’m rather partial to positive comments and criticisms, but I will accept and respond to negative comments and criticisms, provided they are expressed in good taste—and my responses will also be in good taste.

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

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2010 in friends, Humor, Writing

 

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Neighbors ‘R Us . . . (via The King of Texas)

The original posting has been available since September of 2009, and has garnered zero votes and a similar number of comments, so I’m bringing it out of the Stygian darkness of past postings and into the brilliant light of a South Texas August sun. Casting any semblance of modesty aside, I can truthfully say that is beautifully written, tremendously interesting and well worth the read—enjoy!

Neighbors 'R Us . . . The purpose of this posting is to share a recent e-mail from my next-door neighbor and my response to that e-mail. The posting includes titillating observations on house-sitting, cats, iguanas, the Galapagos Islands, timeshares, exotic places, lawyers, teachers, builders, grammar, Fox News, McDonald’s, skiing, Texas, Colorado, refrigerators, snot and more—it’s a veritable smorgasbord of completely unrelated items—brace yourselves for a bumpy … Read More

via The King of Texas

 

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I still like prunes—a story of my Miss Mary . . .

This story is true. I wrote it in 1987 when I lived for six months—an eternity—in Houston, Texas. The story has appeared in sculptor Tom Clark’s Cairn Studio quarterly issue, a publication that is distributed to dealers and collectors of the artist’s work in every county in every state in our United States, including Hawaii and Alaska.  Please note that any use of this document, other than brief excerpts, is prohibited by US and international law—it cannot legally be used in any other fashion without my permission.

Yes, ma’m, I still like prunes

On a special September morning in Mississippi many years ago, the air was crisp and clean and cool, and the woman standing in the doorway folded her arms against the chill. Her deep-set eyes, startlingly blue in a heavily lined unsmiling face, were fixed on a small boy as he neared the steps.

To a casual observer she presented a normal picture. A portrait from an earlier time, perhaps, than 1938, a time of black high-buttoned shoes and ankle length skirts, black and thickly pleated. Her white cotton blouse, high-necked and long-sleeved, was relieved in its starkness only by lace at the neck and wrists. Her hair was tightly plaited and shining in the early morning light, the heavy braids coiled and crossed in an intricate crown of silver.

I was that small boy, and I was not a casual observer. For me the picture was very different as my dragging steps brought me closer to my first full day of school. Fear of the unknown made me forgo any shortcuts between home and school, choosing the longer way to delay the inevitable. I was late, and as I squared the final corner the tardy bell rang. From the bottom step the black-skirted figure loomed gigantic, conjuring up visions of darkness, of beating wings, of things seen only in dreams.

I would come to know the woman as a pioneer educator that brought many innovations to her state and city educational systems. And I would come to love her. On that day I found a friend, and that friendship would be broken only by death.

Although past retirement age, she continued her position and her duties as an elementary school principal, and remained a dynamic figure and force in state and local school administration. In a career that spanned three-quarters of a century, she gained the respect and love of all that knew her.

We called her Miss Mary. She had another name, Stokes, but few of us knew it and none of us used it. She was simply Miss Mary. I spent my first six school years in the square two-story red brick building, my attendance broken only by the unpredictable moves of an itinerant carpenter stepfather.

Miss Mary ruled her school with an iron hand, and meted out corporal punishment on the spot. Always present in one wrinkled blue-veined hand was a wooden ruler. With deadly precision the eighteen inches of supreme authority landed on miscreant knuckles, shoulders and backsides of boys and girls alike.

I had the dubious distinction of being Miss Mary’s pet. Apparently to refute that notion, she punished me for the smallest infractions of a bewildering array of rules. The taps were delivered with love, but became painful through sheer repetition.

Lunch was closely supervised. With military precision we moved through the line, plates on trays, collecting helpings from long-handled spoons along the way. Everyone received the same items in identical portions. Conversation was kept to a minimum with Miss Mary moving among the tables, scolding here, praising there, coaxing us to eat everything on our plates. Probably the most disliked food was spinach—in spite of Popeye’s efforts—and stewed prunes ran a close second.

How I loved stewed prunes! At a time when happiness for other little boys was a Buck Rogers ring with a built-in compass, happiness for me was a third helping of stewed prunes. Served almost daily, they were usually eaten only through Miss Mary’s insistence. Not me—I needed no encouragement. I ate the prunes before I touched the main course. Seeing the affinity that developed between me and stewed prunes, Miss Mary told the ladies on the serving line to give me as many of the wrinkled dark delicacies as I wanted. My taste for prunes and Miss Mary’s indulgence probably made me the most regular kid in town.

As with all activities at Miss Mary’s school, playtime was highly regimented and closely supervised. Boys and girls were separated and each grade had its own area for recreation. If one of us strayed into another zone we were reprimanded and returned to our own.

There were exceptions. Miss Mary felt that in sports and at play children should be evenly matched. If one of us was appreciably smaller than our classmates, or lagged behind in muscular development and coordination, we were assigned to an area where we could compete more effectively and where the chances of injury were reduced.

I was smaller than most of my classmates—perhaps because of the prunes—so I spent my playtime with the next lower grade. There were some advantages. I was better coordinated than the younger boys, and I often spent the entire play period at bat by intentionally hitting foul balls. The rule was, “99 fouls and you’re out.”

Miss Mary ended her career in education at the same time I began mine in military service. Our friendship endured as the years passed, but our visits became infrequent because of my duty assignments. Returning to my hometown after several years overseas, I learned that Miss Mary, nearing the century mark in age, lived near the sister I had come to visit. After a call to her nurse and a short walk to the house, my sister and I were ushered into Miss Mary’s parlor. In the cool dimness of the room with its heavy drapes drawn against the bright fall sun, we saw the tiny figure seated in a massive rocker.

Her frail shoulders sagged under the weight of a thick brown shawl. She sat slumped forward, head down and eyes fixed on skeletal folded hands. Silhouetted against the single dim lamp she had an ethereal quality, her skin almost translucent, the diffused light a halo for her bowed head with its wispy strands of white hair. She seemed unaware of me, and paid no heed to my gentle reminders of the past. The nurse said that long periods of withdrawal were common, that Miss Mary might not recognize me or correspond in any way. I tried several times to talk to her, but there was no indication that she knew me or even heard me. Feeling awkward and ill at ease, and filled with a deep sense of loss and sadness, I told the nurse that I would come back later. I stood and moved toward the door and then I heard it.

“Do you still like prunes?”

Each word loud and clear, the voice deep and strong, lightly dismissing the long years, pushing back time and space to another day when a small boy found an unexpected and lifelong friend. Memories flooded over me as I turned back, sat down and replied, “Yes, ma’m, I still like prunes.” But that was all. Not another word. She remained silent and unmoving, head down and hands folded, and did not respond to me or to the nurse. Throat swollen and blinded by a scalding rush of tears, I stumbled to the door and out of the house.

I never saw her again. She died several months later, peacefully in her sleep according to newspaper accounts. Tribute was paid in eulogies by leading citizens and educators from all over the South, and the press detailed her long career and her many accomplishments. All the pictures in the newspapers were of a stranger. Not one was of the woman I remembered. Not one of them was of my Miss Mary. And not one of them was the Miss Mary in my strongest memories, the first time and the last time I saw her.

My sister did not hear Miss Mary ask me the question that day. She heard my answer that I still liked prunes, but thought I was trying to bridge the gulf with another reminder of the past. Nor did the nurse hear the question. She heard only my answer. Did Miss Mary speak to me? Did she remember me? Did the other two people in the room simply fail to hear the voice I heard so clearly? Could I have wanted recognition so badly that I imagined she spoke to me? Or did Miss Mary somehow transcend the need for speech and reach out to me without words?

My old friend spoke to me that day. I did not imagine her voice. I heard it. She knew me and in order to show that she remembered, she asked the one question that would identify me among the many thousands of people whose lives she had touched and shaped and strengthened.

“Do you still like prunes?” She knew me and she spoke to me and she heard my answer.

I have no doubts, no misgivings. I know it.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2010 in Childhood, education, friends, Writing

 

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Re: On the question of gay marriage rights . . .

In May of 2007, early  in my blogging efforts, I posted a dissertation on the rights (or lack thereof) of homosexual couples—gays, if you will—to be married under the same rights granted to heterosexual couples—straights, if you will. The complete posting can be found here: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/on-the-question-of-gay-marriage-rights/. I will say, in all humility, that a trip to that posting is well worth your time and effort.

In spite of the fact that the question of marriage rights for gays is one of the most divisive discussions in our society, my original posting has garnered only one response, a comment made by a heterosexual person. I am tempted to conclude that homosexuals do not frequent WordPress, or if they do, they never search for another person’s take on the problem. Or they find a discussion, one that I unblushingly believe to be an original approach to the problem, whether humorous or helpful, and they find it neither—otherwise I should think that they would comment on the posting.

Hey, people! This is an example of thinking outside the box, a technique that was developed and published many years ago, intended to stimulate discussion and perhaps arrive at solutions to problems, regardless of their nature.

I am therefore bringing the lone comment out of the closet of comments and into the bright sunlight of its own posting. The original comment, along with my initial response, the commenter’s reply and my final response to that reply follows. My purpose is to make our give-and-take discussion available to others. I spent a considerable amount of time formulating my out of the box solution to the problem, and I expected considerably more than one comment—if I’m being unreasonable, so be it!

This is the original comment:

Yours is a long-winded and overly simplified analysis based on a faulty starting premise. Other than that, it was entertaining to read but will change no one’s opinion.

My reply:

Viewer comments to a blog posting can be approved as submitted, approved and edited, deleted or ignored. My first reaction was to delete yours, but I reconsidered and decided to approve it, unedited, because I felt that your reaction to the posting would be of interest to other viewers.

Thanks for viewing this posting, and thanks for the comment. I regret that you found my analysis long-winded and overly simplified, and I was doubly disappointed that you felt my analysis was based on a faulty starting premise. However, it pleases me that you found it entertaining—such was my intent. I placed the posting in the humor category because it was intended to be humorous, satirical and entertaining. The fact that it entertained you means that, in the opinion of at least one viewer, I achieved my objective.

Commenter’s response:

Fair enough. I seldom mock anyone’s view in a blog and I hope I did not give that impression. The issue has caused hurt in my own family as my closest cousin has tried to get me to accept that she is married to her longtime companion (who I dearly love, as well). However, as you are the King of our great state, I think it is imperative that I continue to read you.

My final reply:

Please accept my sincerest thanks for your follow-up comment, and I also tender my heartfelt thanks for your sharing an issue that has caused hurt in your family.

My wife (the Queen) and my three daughters (the three Princesses) claim that I have an opinion on virtually everything, and they think that I believe I can effectively advise others on virtually everything. They are right, of course, but I try to avoid doing either because I am skeptical of other people’s opinions and have difficulty accepting any advice they may give. I expose these faults only to let you know that the thoughts below are not my opinions and are not given as advice—they are nothing more than random thoughts prompted by your posting.

My first thought on reading your response was a phrase that can be found somewhere in the Holy Bible, the King James version (a fellow king), a passage that says, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,” or something to that effect. The phrase varies in construction and purpose, but is widely used in marriage ceremonies. Many people, perhaps most, believe that it refers to the sanctity of the marriage.

An immediate afterthought was that the phrase places no restrictions on the participants in any way regarding age, race, religion, political affiliation, physical attributes such as height, weight, or fairness of face (or lack thereof), or gender.

My second thought was one of a prayer known worldwide, probably published and spoken in every language imaginable—some who read this prayer feel that it embodies the wisdom of the ages. Others consider it trite and dismiss it. I believe that each of us should at least make a stab at living by this maxim, this fundamental rule of conduct. It should be easy, because it requires only three attributes: serenity, courage and wisdom, attributes inherent in everyone.

This is the prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. —Reinhold Niebuhr

At the risk of repeating myself I will repeat myself. These are not my opinions and are not given as advice—they are nothing more than random thoughts prompted by your posting, and should be regarded as such—unless, of course, you find them applicable in any way, and in that case you are on your own.

Good luck, and best regards.

 
 

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Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game

Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game:

FROM WIKIPEDIA: The fruit of a Chinaberry tree is a berrylike, round fleshy fruit. It continues through winter and contains a stone with one to six seeds inside. The berries are yellowish green turning to yellowish tan.

On color I am somewhat in disagreement with Wikipedia—a full grown Chinaberry is very hard and green—not yellowish green, but green green—I should know, because I have a close association with Chinaberries—a history, so to speak. I agree that the berry turns yellowish while still on the tree and softens with age, and predictably, with that softening it becomes ineligible for Chinaberry pitching. On further thought, it’s been years since I’ve seen a Chinaberry, so it may be that today’s berries are in fact yellowish green, perhaps due to global warming caused by Al Gore.

As a young boy I lived with my family—mother, sister and stepfather—for several months near a railroad stockyard for animals. I lived near the stockyard at two widely separated times in different rental houses for several months each time. Shipments of cows and horses were held in the stockyards for a brief time waiting for transportation by rail to some destination, whether to auction, to pasture or to slaughterhouses. The holding pens were fenced with steel posts and pipes rather than wooden posts and railings, and the top pipe, or rail, of the enclosure was the perch on which Chinaberry-pitching contestants sat for the competitions.

A special note: When I googled the word stockyard, I was rewarded by the image on the right. It does not seem to be related to stockyards in any way, but I decided to share it—go figure!

Having arrived at the pen with pockets filled with Chinaberries, a contestant could choose to stand on a lower rail and pitch, but was then constrained to lean forward over the rail for balance, or hold on with one hand while pitching with the other. For most contestants, that stance proved to be a distraction. The more effective pitches were launched while straddling the top rail at a right angle to the target, or while seated facing the target. The latter position was, for obvious reasons, far more comfortable than the straddle.

Multiple contestants were not necessary. I can remember many hours of competing against myself—yep, I was always the winner, never a loser, in such contests—that’s just the way the game worked. That’s the way I believe life should work but, as opposed to Chinaberry pitching, I don’t always get my way.

Our targets were cowpies. A definition of the term is probably unnecessary, but I’ll define it anyway. Cowpie is a euphemism for the fecal matter excreted by a bovine animal, whether male or female, and on that note one must needs witness the excretion to determine the animal’s gender—the sex of the bovine cannot be determined by the nature of the cowpie—diet and approximate age and size, perhaps, but not gender—not even by the most knowledgeable rancher, veterinarian or Chinaberry pitcher.

There are various other euphemisms  for bovine excrement. They include terns such as cow flop, cow plop (from the sound of hitting the ground), cow hockey, cow dung, cow stuff and some terms that are not readily accepted in mixed company or in the presence of one’s parents. As an aside, a bovine sometimes continues its forward motion while “going to the bathroom.” This produces a trail of cow flops, or plops, that decrease in size as the motion progresses. Counting the separate flops was routine by country boys—the trail with the greatest number of flops won any bet that was waged. In any game of Chinaberry pitching, accurate hits that stuck to the small ones counted more than hits on the larger ones.

Overhand pitches thrown on a level trajectory may have been accurate, but the ability of the berry to stick to the target was minimal, and did not get the job done. The missile had to come down on the target as close to a ninety degree angle as possible. The berry was held delicately between thumb and forefinger and the hand drawn back toward the shoulder, lining up the berry with the target, squinting with one eye and sighting with the other, just as a firearm is aimed by a marksman, then propelled upward and outward to produce an arc that would enable the missile to drop downward onto the target. The farther away the target, the farther back the hand was drawn in order to provide the necessary momentum. This procedure was variously called a pitch, toss or throw.

Part of the scoring included the distance from the point of release to the target—distance was necessarily an estimated figure—as one might imagine, walking to measure the distance was somewhat perilous, especially if one had just come from church and was wearing one’s Sunday shoes—you know, the ones in brown and white with long laces that, unless carefully tied, sometimes dragged along the ground when one walked. And in the rush to claim the greater distance, a misstep was not only possible—it was highly probable—bummer!

The sport of Chinaberry pitching required considerable finesse, comparable to the sport of darts but far more challenging. The ultimate skill one could demonstrate was to nestle the berry on a thumbnail with the tip of the nail placed at the junction of the first joint of the forefinger at the halfway point, then snapping the thumb up to propel the missile towards its target—this was called a “flip.” Since the berry was traveling at a greater speed than the overhand throw, more altitude had to be factored into its trajectory to provide the proper angle to allow the berry to drop nearer to the perfect ninety degree angle. Following release of the Chinaberry, the thumb would be straight up and the forefinger would be pointed straight at the target—at this juncture most contestants vocally reproduced the sound of a firearm, something such as pow or bam. Well, not always vocally—these were boys, and as they say, boys will be boys! In either case the intent was to irritate and distract one’s competitors—the louder the better, particularly in instances of non-vocal sound reproduction.

One’s position on the top rail was important, whether in a straddle or seated facing the targets. the right angle was the safest position, but the face-forward with both feet on the same side had much to recommend it, although in the heat of competition the possibility of falling backward was more pronounced.

And here I hasten to add that horses have nothing to contribute to the game of Chinaberry pitching—without going too far into detail, I’ll just say that it doesn’t work, and anyone familiar with the difference in cow dung and horse dung  will understand (we referred to the horse dung as road apples). The horse provides a target for Chinaberries, of course, but a hit, however expertly aimed and accurate, bounces off and leaves nothing to prove the accuracy of the hit—unless ones opponent happens to see the hit when it occurs. Conversely, the cow plop clings to the evidence—or vice versa—and the accuracy of the toss, or flip, can neither be denied nor overlooked.

In 1942, Chinaberry pitching was the closest thing we boys had to today’s video games. I specify boys, because I have no recollection of any girls having shown even the slightest interest in the game, neither in Chinaberries, stockyards or cowpies. Bummer!

And in order to close this posting, I’ll quote that immortal couple Archie and Edith Bunker of television situation comedy fame with the title of their signature song, “Those were the days!”

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

 

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Go west, young man, and grow up . . .

Go west, young man, and grow up with the country, a quote attributed, perhaps wrongly, to Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune. Regardless of the quote’s origin, my mother’s youngest son followed that advice—not voluntarily but certainly not reluctantly—the mere thought of going west was exciting. By the age of 12 I had read every Zane Grey western novel, and I fancied myself a fine candidate for the title of cowboy.

Click here for an interesting article dealing with Horace Greeley and the development of our country. Be forewarned—every time the author used an apostrophe or quotation marks—and they are numerous in the article—they printed out as a question mark on a black diamond background such as this:

Now on to my great adventure:

I made the trip from the deep South—Mississippi—to Midland, Texas, as a passenger in the rear seat of a 1939 Plymouth four-door sedan. The youngest of my three sisters, just eighteen months older than I, shared the rear seat with me, and my mother and our stepfather—Papa John—filled the front seat.

It took an interminable time to complete the journey. Our interstate highway system was in its infancy at the time, and most of the trip was along two-lane roads—paved, of course, but not conducive to getting anywhere anytime soon. Papa John, dressed in his trademark khakis, shod with hand-stitched Texas style boots, with a wide-brimmed Stetson hat set squarely and firmly atop the ensemble, served as our driver. He sat rigidly upright with both hands on the wheel, positioned at two and ten o’clock, and hurtled us toward our destination at a hair-raising speed of forty-five miles per hour—exactly. I gave him credit for getting us to Midland safely along treacherous roads, but gave no kudos for making good time—both comments made inaudibly, of course—I couldn’t afford to tempt fate!

My time in Midland lasted just over three months. It began in March and ended in late June when Papa John, once again weary of shepherding our small family, found an excuse to throw a tirade–or pitch a fit, as my sister put it—and send us packing, off on another great adventure. My mother, my sister and I wound up in El Paso with my older brother who lived and worked at the El Paso Smelting Works. We made the trip on a Greyhound bus, one that we hastily boarded after hastily packing our meager clothing.

Our stay in El Paso was of short duration, and that stay will form the basis for a subsequent posting. As a preview of things to come, I’ll say that my arrival in El Paso was followed by travel by my brother and me, from El Paso to Dallas and on to Valley Park, Missouri for an overnight stay in jail on a Sunday—my sixteenth birthday—then on to St. Louis and New York City for a brief stay at 21 University Place in that city’s Greenwich Village.

Here’s a teaser: My brother and I were hot on the trail of his wife, a native New Yorker that had left home with their two children, shortly after he left for work, on the pretext of a shopping trip to downtown El Paso—that pretext took them all the way to New York City.

Stay tuned– more details of our pursuit will soon follow. The pursuit proved fruitless, but provided significant adventures for my brother and me, not the least of which was our overnight stay in a Saint Louis suburb. Our sleeping accommodations were rather sparse with no freebies, but were provided by the city at no cost to us.

Had I the talent and the inclination (I have neither), I could write a book on my experiences during that summer in Texas—not just a short story but a lengthy tome. Just as a teaser, I’ll say that in that interval of time I acquired a Social Security card—illegally—I was fifteen and the minimum age requirement at that time was sixteen, and subsequently had two paying jobs while in Midland. That card enabled Papa John to hire me out, first to a self-service laundry as an indentured servant—so to speak—and then as a clerk in a retail hardware store.

In addition to swamper duties—mopping, sweeping, cleaning windows, etc., my job at the self-service laundry included bringing in dry soiled clothing from conveyances and taking out newly laundered wet clothing to the same. The bringing in was no problem, but the taking out was a serious problem because the laundry had no dryers. Customers took their wet clothes home and hung them out to dry on lines mounted in their back yards—ah, for the good old days!

Picture this: A #2 tin washtub piled high with wet clothing carried by a 100-pound teenager—I’m here to tell you that the job got old quickly. My usual sequence for outside delivery was to squat, take a deep breath, lift the tub with a loud grunt (the grunt was mine, not the tub’s) and hasten with short steps, almost running, to the proper conveyance, be it an auto, a child’s wagon or a wheelbarrow—all three modes were used at that time in that place.

Following a brief period of hauling in soiled clothes for women and returning wet clothes to the proper conveyance, Papa John thoughtfully secured a position for me as a clerk in a combination lumber yard and retail hardware store—I’ll hold that story in reserve for a future posting.

One final note on my adventures in Midland, Texas—no, belay that—this may not be the final note—there may be more to come, because writing of one aspect of our sojourn there tends to awaken more memories, many well worth separate postings.

Now to continue with my not so final note on Midland:

As in all locations in which I earned money while under the tutelage of my stepfather, my take-home pay in Midland was not subjected to discussion but was, as always, subjected to division. One half went to my mother for my room and board, and I was allowed to retain a pittance for my use—the rest went for the purchase of federal savings bonds in my name, documents that were termed war bonds during World War II. I suppose I should feel indebted to Papa John for instilling good saving habits in me, but at the time I did not appreciate the continued division of my labors, with the smallest amount left available for my use, an amount not determined by me.

Bummer!

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

 
 

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Don’t blame Madoff . . .

Don’t place all the blame on Madoff for the billions of dollars that passed from thousands of people to him, his family, his friends and his associates through his Ponzi scheme. Many of those thousands that were bilked enjoyed the rarefied atmosphere found in our top income brackets, but most breathed the common air of middle incomes. Those billions of dollars handed to Madoff were considered by all to be investments, but after a considerable amount of time passed—years—the truth was outed. Those billions of dollars were actually donations, given freely to Madoff and his investment company, given in anticipation of earning fantastic profits.

The blame is not Madoff’s alone—he is guilty, of course, but that guilt must be shared by his victims.

Madoff is now firmly incarcerated, entombed by our criminal justice system and will remain entombed for the next thousand years or so, or until he dies, whichever comes first. He is enduring a punishment for something that was not his fault—well, perhaps half of it was his fault, but no more than half. The other half of that fault lies with the people that followed a trail of crumbs of greed, one carefully laid by Madoff, to its ultimate destination—the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Many of his victims—not all, but perhaps most—were honest and hardworking people, all expecting to profit by dabbling in the stock market and thereby improving their lives, a perfectly normal expectation in our capitalistic society.

Those that were scammed by Madoff’s Ponzi scheme were sorely afflicted with gullibility and greed, a two-pronged disease that will always be lurking in the darkness, ready to oblige anyone that expects to receive something in return for giving nothing. Such are those that firmly believe in that fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

We have a maxim that will protect us from similar situations, but only if we acknowledge its truth and follow it scrupulously. That maxim goes like this:

If something seems too good to be true, it isn’t.

A simple and straightforward adage and one to which we should all adhere. And there is another simple and straightforward adage to which each of us should adhere. This adage is my adage, or maxim if you will, coined by me. I give it freely, with neither hope nor need of recompense—no hope or need of monetary recompense, but I would appreciate and acknowledge recognition of its value. Here is my contribution to civilization:

Every person now living, and every person that arrives later, can be had.

For anyone unfamiliar with the verb phrase to be had, it means can be screwed. In this instance the verb screwed is a remarkably understandable synonym for cheated—the verb to screw has substantially different meanings, of course, as do many verbs in our language.

Conjugation of the verb to be screwed would be screwed, screwed and screwed. Present, past and future tense would be, I am screwed, I was screwed, I will be screwed again.

If confession is good for the soul, then mine is about to be washed clean—I have been had, not once but many times over a lifetime of susceptibility, a life that has taken me far beyond senior citizen status and still counting. The situations in which I have been had differ only in degree—everything else is the same, identical to the situation in which people were had by Madoff. In every instance in which I have been had, I was afflicted with and guided by gullibility and greed.

Trust me—those two emotions are always present and are always the culprits when one is had—there are no exceptions. Many years ago I was had by a carnival barker that promised me a huge profit if I would only toss wooden rings at several rows of wooden pegs. Each peg had a specific point value that ranged from one-half point up to a much higher number of points—there was an explanatory chart taped to the counter top showing the various point values.

Prizes to be given ranged from teddy bears to televisions, prominently arrayed on shelves behind the counter, to be given depending on the number of points earned from tossing the rings at the pegs. Each ring had to be paid for before the toss. The ring could be tossed until a peg was ringed, and the number of points on that peg were earned and added to the total points already earned, if any.

The limited amount of money I brought to the carnival—only five dollars or so—was soon expended, and after my last dollar had been pissed away—oops, I meant thrown away—I needed only one-half of one point to win the brass ring—my choice of any prize behind the counter. As a precaution prior to investing more money, I studied that fraction-filled point chart (studiously) and found that the lowest fraction on the chart was one-half—1/2—of one point.

There was no one-fourth—1/4—point!

Voila!

How could I lose?

The answer?

I couldn’t lose!

I only needed to toss rings until my toss circled a one-half point peg, and the brass ring would be mine!

I only needed the wherewithal to purchase more rings.

I was a proud enlisted member of our American military force at the time. I was paid once monthly at the end of each month—not much, but I was paid regularly. I was four days away from payday and neither my wife nor I had any more money with us, but safely ensconced at home, well hidden against the possibility that a burglar might ransack our home, was one twenty-dollar greenback.

And now for the rest of that story:

I hied myself to our home, extracted the bill from its hiding place, returned to the carnival, began tossing rings and finally, after I had the entire twenty dollars invested, the barker said, “This one’s a winner.” The brass ring winner? No—the last peg I ringed with that stupid wooden ring that took the last one of my twenty dollars showed only one-fourth of a point.

I protested vigorously and vehemently, charging that the chart taped to the counter did not include a one-fourth—1/4—point. The barker calmly placed a fingertip on the chart, and my gaze followed that stupid grimy hand and its stupid grimy fingertip with its stupid nail packed with dirt to a number that definitely and indelibly read as follows:

1/4.

It hurt horribly and I protested loudly, threatening to leave and return with my base commander, all without effect—my twenty dollars could never be retrieved. For all the good that bill did me, I might as well have utilized it at home and then flushed it.

That’s my story—I could have told other stories, some involving more money and some less, and some involving other than money, but this is as good an example as I have to demonstrate my theory of gullibility and greed. I did not see the 1/4 point on the chart because I did not want to see it. It was there, but my gullibility and greed infected and affected my vision, resulting in the loss of our accumulated cash wealth at the time.

I say that in all seriousness. We had no money in a checking account or savings account because we had no bank account. With the loss of the twenty we had no money, nothing to exchange at the commissary for food or for baby formula, diapers and talcum powder. Other than that ill-fated twenty-dollar bill, we had absolutely nothing reserved for a calamitous event such as the one precipitated, with treacherous and malicious aforethought, by that damned carnival barker—may he rest in (fill in the blank).

Bummer!

I was gullible and greedy, just as were the victims of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. However, that incident has stood me in good stead over the years since. I readily admit that I can be had, that somewhere in my world there is some silver-tongued devil that has the ability to make a profit off me by focusing on those two emotions, and I resist it with every fiber of my being, knowing that it could happen again.

In the near future I plan to post the story of how we made it through the last four days before payday. That posting will be a sad tale that involves floating a five-dollar loan and completing a sales transaction, both successful only because of the beneficence of two fellow service members.

A special note: The brass ring was an item that could be snagged by a rider whirling around on one of the old time carnival merry-go-rounds, provided that the rider had a very long reach—hence the expression go for the brass ring. A rider that snagged the brass ring qualified for a prize, one of very little value but one sought for desperately, particularly by young men eager to impress their dates, or perhaps by young men eager to impress other young men, or by young women eager to impress—etc., etc.—who knows who or why? I don’t know whether the practice still exists—I do know that it did exist—I tried many times, but I never caught the brass ring.

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

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2010 in Family, friends, Humor, stock market

 

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What I did on my summer vacation, by . . .

Does anyone remember the return to their classroom on the first day of school following the summer hiatus, a return to the unwilling pursuit of an education under the tutelage of teachers toiling at the elementary level? On that first day at my beloved school, every child in every grade (first through sixth) was privileged—nay, ordered—to stand in front of the blackboard, facing the class and disclose some or all of whatever they did on their summer vacation.

Some of my classmates stood stiffly throughout the delivery with arms held rigidly at their side. Others stood with hands in pockets or clasped behind their back, and in some limited cases, especially for the boys but occasionally for one of the girls, with hands covering their crotch, concealing that area of their anatomy. Whether that pose was an effort to divert from, or perhaps attract attention to that area, the “hands covering crotch” was limited by the teacher to a very few seconds, with the remonstration being made before the speech began and sometimes repeated during the presentation.

The title to each speech—the preamble, so to speak—was given rote and was identical for each student except for the name. My speech to my classmates began with this:

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, by (fill in first and last name)—as if the rest of the class didn’t know my name!

Everything that followed that ominous start was extemporaneous, a wandering recitation filled with numerous ands, uhs, thens, wells, ain’ts, mispronounced words, poor sentence constructions, conflicting subjects and objects, misuse of adverbs, long looks at one’s feet and even longer (and longing) stares through the classroom windows to the outside world.

Most errors were caught by the teacher, with the resultant corrections and reprimands. If anyone wonders how we got through the first day, just remember that we didn’t change classes during the day—our heinies were glued to our seats all day—we had more than enough time to finish.

A few of our What I Did speeches were mercifully terminated early by the teacher. A classic example of such action was the speech to which we all looked forward, that of a classmate known only by the initials W. A. It isn’t that I’ve forgotten his last name. I remember it well, but I must admit that, for some odd reason, I remember more names of girls than names of boys among my fellow students in elementary school—in fact, I am hard put to remember both given name and surname of any boy from those years (none other than W.A., of course).

W.A.—the boy and his name—is prominent in my memories of elementary school. A unique and very special person, I treasure his memory and could never forget him.

W.A. stuttered—not a slow, drawling stutter one would expect from a Mississippi stutterer but a staccato stutterer, a rapid-fire stutterer, one that soon had the entire class in tears, howling with laughter while our teacher faced away from the class with her gaze apparently fixed on something interesting outside the building.

Although she made no sounds while gazing, W.A.’s speech was apparently so effective that it made her tremble with pleasure—in fact it affected her composure so strongly that she invariably terminated his speech well before he finished. When she told him “That was very good, W.A., thank you,” W.A. always returned her thank you with his own, obviously heartfelt thank you, although it took awhile to return it. Once he got past the tee in thank, the you followed quickly and W.A. could then return to his seat.

We had ample opportunities to develop and perfect thespian skills in our elementary grades. In addition to individual performances in various holiday presentations such as Easter, Halloween, Independence Day and Christmas, we also appeared onstage as a group in the school auditorium, an area that daily doubled as our lunchroom. Each class went onstage en masse, and each student performed—each had a speech to give, a poem to recite, a song to sing, a story to tell, etc.

On a memorable day, perhaps the most memorable in the history of our school, the third grade students’ presentations began with a song by W.A., a heart-wrenching story  about a missing cat, one that was last seen running over hill and dale with a dog named Bowser in hot pursuit. Here is the first line of the song, a line that was repeated several times in the song’s chorus:

Has anybody seen my kitty, has anybody seen my cat?

Note the letters b, d, k and c (k sound) in the line—it should not be necessary for me to describe how difficult it was for W.A. to sing that song, but I will attempt to describe the audience’s reaction to the song, a reaction that included faculty, lunchroom employees, visiting friends and relatives and every enrolled student that was fortunate enough to have attended school on that day, including W.A.’s fellow classmates.

The laughter was thunderous, but the applause was even more thunderous, a standing ovation that began just before the conclusion of the song. And for those that may be disposed to criticize the reactions of the audience, we should remember that in those days, particularly in my part of the country, very few things were politically incorrect—actually, neither were there many things that were politically correct.

In order to wrap up this posting, I urge the viewer to understand that W.A. was, without question, one of the most popular students in our school. We mocked him but we also imitated him, not to belittle but to share with him even a small portion of the laughs he garnered and the popularity he enjoyed—because of  W.A. every kid in school could qualify as a stand-up comedian. And most important, W.A. was frequently surrounded by a bevy of cute girls. That’s a neat thing, regardless of their motives—like, who cares why?

I can never know whether he enjoyed his popularity or hated it, but in retrospect I suspect that W.A. tended to prolong his stuttering and perhaps even embellished and enhanced it—but I could be wrong.

W.A., if you happen to read this and you enjoyed your popularity, I’m happy for you. If you hated it, please accept my abject and heartfelt apologies. And if you are enrolled and performing in that brightly shining elementary school in the sky I say,

BREAK A LEG!

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

 

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Letter to Dockie, November 1993 . . .

Sixteen years ago I was pulling night-duty at San Antonio’s International Airport, waiting for and working flights coming in from Mexico. Since I had long ago mastered any and all U. S. Customs rules and regulations as they related to my duties, I felt justified in passing the time and staying awake by writing letters to friends and relatives. I began this letter that evening, and added to it over a period of several days and sent it snail-mail on the above date.

November 13,1993

Hi, Dockie and Jackie,

Don’t faint, it’s just me. I realize you folks are not very accustomed to getting letters from me (especially since this is the only one I ever sent you), but the shock should wear off pretty soon. We found the picture of Philip in the flower bush. I mean we found the picture which shows Philip in the flower bush, not that we found it in the flower bush. I figured I would send some words of wisdom along with it. The picture has faded a lot over the years. It was made 18 years ago, so I guess it’s in pretty good shape considering the time that has passed.

I’m working a swing shift at the airport, from 3-11 p.m., and have a lot of free time on my hands. Well, actually I’m not working 3-11 today, I’m working 8-5, but usually I am 3-11. There’s not much to do and I really get bored, so I decided to use the time to write letters and bore the people I send them to.

I’ve written my sisters more since I started working nights than I have in my entire life. I’ve even written Aubrey and Evelyn and Winnie and Clyde and Bill several times. One thing about the letters I need to warn you of—they are long. Writing on a computer is a little like running downhill, eating peanuts or having sex—once you start, it’s hard to stop.

We really had a great time in Georgia, especially at the cookout. Seeing you and Jackie and Jean was a real treat, and seeing that gaggle of kids and grand-kids and in-laws and outlaws was great. Of course, the years weigh a bit heavier when you see that the kids now have kids, and their kids will soon be having kids, and you wonder where the years went. I can remember so clearly us playing jacks in Montgomery. I’m not sure but I think I remember winning, at least some of the games. Tell you what—you and Jackie come on out for a visit, and I’ll buy some jacks and challenge you to a game—I think I can still beat you!

Cindy spent 10 days with us recently, from October 23 until November 2. She left this past Tuesday, but has already bought tickets to return during Christmas. The house sure seemed empty for awhile after she left, and we’re already looking forward to her return in December. She is doing well in her work in Virginia—in fact she will make more than her ol’ pappy this year if she keeps on like she is going. The only problem is that she has learned how to make money, but has not yet learned how to hold on to any of it. When she masters that, she will have it made. Her sister Kelley is running her a close second on that—not in making the money, but in spending it.

I think the people in Mexico are still talking about the visit you and the others made to Laredo. In fact, in Mexican folklore they refer to you as “la senorita loca con la pela rubia y el sombrero gigante,” which means “the crazy lady with the blond hair and the giant hat.” When you folks come out, we’ll try to fit in a trip to the border so you can terrorize the natives some more.

I just got back to my office. One of the ladies I work with is a garage sale freak like me, and we went hunting garage sales. They were supposed to have a giant sale at Trinity Baptist Church today, so we went there first. There were at least 100 cars there, so we figured it would be a great sale, but we couldn’t find where they were set up. We finally asked a motorcycle cop at the corner about it, and he said that the cars were there for a funeral, and that he didn’t know anything about a garage sale. I guess we have sunk to a new low, trying to get a really good bargain at a funeral.

We finally found several small yard sales before we had to return to work. I bought a 35-millimeter slide projector for $2.00. Does it work? I don’t know yet, haven’t tried it, but even if it doesn’t work I’m only out two bucks, and I’ll probably value it at $50 and donate it to Goodwill Industries and take a tax deduction, so how can I lose?

How are the goats doing? Boy, we really have some ritzy relatives—they keep a BMW parked in the yard just so their goats will have something to climb on! Alta and I liked your house, and you have it so nicely decorated. She is still talking about her visit with you. I guess you two sat up and talked all night.

Hope your Cocker Spaniel is alright now. She is a friendly little thing —well, not so little, I guess. And I know now not to blow the horn when I come to visit, or the white elephant will come out and chew off my bumpers. You call him a bulldog, but he’s more elephant-sized than dog-sized.

I told you that the letters are long. You’re probably getting an Excedrin headache from reading this. You know you can always stop and come back to it later if you want to. Of course the news will be that much older by the time you return.

Did we have our patio covered when you were out here? I don’t think we did. Anyhow, it is covered now, and we are going to extend the patio cover across the back of the house, probably about 50 feet all together. Hope to get it finished by the end of November, before the weather turns cold and wet. We had a cold spell last week. The temperature got down to about 27 degrees, but just for a few hours. We put all the plants in the garage and haven’t put them back out yet. Actually we have a 2-cat garage. They stay there at night, and are in and out of the house all day. They are having a ball climbing the ficus trees in the garage.

Took the tom cat (Dumas Walker) to the vet yesterday for his shots. It took three of us to give him the immunizations—two to hold him down and one to use the needle. That cat does not like to go to the vet. We gave him a tranquilizer before we took him in, but all it did was make him mad. I mean he was a real tiger, but normally he is a very gentle and loving cat—spends a lot of his time lying on my chest while I’m watching television. After seeing him in action at the vet’s office yesterday, I don’t feel quite as comfortable having him lying there.

I suppose I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll close. Tell everybody hello for us, and give Jean our love. We know that you have a tough row to hoe, and you are doing it alone. We’ve never been in that situation, but we understand your problems and frustrations, and support you in everything you do.

Lots of love,

Janie and Mike

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2009 in Family, friends, Humor, pets

 

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Neighbors ‘R Us . . .

The purpose of this posting is to share a recent e-mail from my next-door neighbor and my response to that e-mail. The posting includes titillating observations on house-sitting, cats, iguanas, the Galapagos Islands, timeshares, exotic places, lawyers, teachers, builders, grammar, Fox News, McDonald’s, skiing, Texas, Colorado, refrigerators, snot and more—it’s a veritable smorgasbord of completely unrelated items—brace yourselves for a bumpy ride!

A rather lengthy (but highly educational) prelude to the e-mails:

Please overlook my ending the next sentence with a preposition—sometimes in writing, one must simply suck-it-up and run with an improperly located preposition.

In the house on the immediate west side of my home reside two of the best friends and neighbors any reasonably sane person could wish for.

There—I did it—I ended a sentence with a preposition. Look how silly it would be to end the sentence thusly: “. . . for which any reasonably sane person could wish.” And here I must echo the words of Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister and hero of World War II, as regards the prohibition of never ending a sentence with a proposition: “This is a situation with which I will not up with put.”

I rest my case.

AIntoThisStuffMy next-door neighbors own several timeshares, broadly scattered around our fifty states. They share their domicile with a cat and two large—quite large—iguanas. Well, they don’t share the actual domicile with them—the cat rambles everywhere, but has a pet entry into their garage for his return at nightfall and at sunup. As for the iguanas, they pass their days and nights in a comfortably large outdoor cage on the backyard patio, a cage with natural climate control aided by a cool-water misting system for summer and a heating system for winter. Both iguanas are ladies by nature, although both lay eggs—lots of eggs, with no contact or input (so to speak) from the opposite sex—which is probably a good thing—if there were contact and input we would probably be up to our waists in iguanas.

The ladies spend their waking hours eating lettuce and iguana-food pellets (enhanced with a sprinkling of orange juice), dumping into a large water-filled pan and hissing menacingly at passers-by. Incidentally, iguanas have a nasty habit of marking spectators. At first I thought they were expectorating (I got hit just above my right eyebrow), but I later learned that the iguana was not spitting—it was snotting.

ALizzieBigYep, the material came from its nostrils. I suppose the word snot as a verb would be conjugated as follows: present tense snot (Do iguanas snot on people?), past tense snotted (The iguana snotted on me), and future tense snotted (By this time tomorrow the iguana may have snotted on me again—but I hope not). My online research revealed many things, not the least of which is that iguanas in the Galapagos Islands snot salt—an environmental curiosity, I suppose. And sometimes the snalt (combination of snot and salt) is green in hue, a color caused by a bacterial infection. In my case I was not subjected to the “green sheen” category—obviously my neighbor iguanas are healthy.

Yeah, I know—TMI (Too Much Information). It’s simply that I enjoy sharing trivia—even gross trivia. Just imagine throwing up (so to speak) this tidbit of information for consideration by attendees at a crowded cocktail gathering—why, one would be spotlighted and lauded by all! And all would welcome learning a new word—snalt. And just consider the possibilities for spirited speculative discussions—should an iguana be fed pepper, for example, the nasal output could be called snepper. And I would suppose that if it were black pepper and a bacterial infection existed, the snepper would perhaps be tinted black, and if red peppers, the snepper would be tinted red. And if fed green peppers, the snepper would probably be green, similar to to the ocean-green hue of snalt, as documented in the Galapagos Islands.

AMineAllMineI would like to believe that the action of my neighbor’s iguana stemmed from mutual respect and admiration, but I believe it was delivered to the tune of, “Stop staring at me!” Since that single incident I have kept my distance with my cap pulled low—just above my eyebrows.

They both work (the neighbors, not the iguanas). The husband is a highly talented architect and builder, and the wife is an educator in a local school district. They have vacation timeshares and occasionally jet off to some exotic location for a week or so of rest and relaxation, this time in Colorado.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must reveal that my family also has a timeshare. We gather in the spring at an exotic location for several days, a location that has all the amenities one could desire. And also in the interest of full disclosure, I must state that the location is only a short drive from home, and is made available to us by our neighbors. Their action is purely altruistic and is in no way related to my house-sitting, cat-sitting and iguana-sitting in their absences. If I felt that it was in the form of compensation I would reject it.

Yeah, right—of course I would—not!

AMyOnlyRegretThis is my neighbors’ original e-mail, sent just prior to their departure for one of said exotic locations:

Hi—our brand new refrigerator has a busted condensate pan! It is, of course, under warranty but we didn’t have time to meet a service tech before we left. Consequently, sometimes when it goes through the defrost cycle a little water leaks out onto the floor. I share this information with you not so much as a warning, but as a disclaimer against any potential legal action filed as a result of a slip and fall by a good-hearted neighbor in the process of feeding our critters! In the meantime, instead of getting packed, my wife is cleaning the house from top to bottom because she doesn’t want that same good-hearted neighbor to think that we are a bunch of slobs (as for me, I just issue disclaimers).

I’m going to send this now before my beloved bride reads this, because she might not appreciate my humor!

And this is my response to their e-mail:

Hi—I’m sorry to hear that your new fridge has a problem, but I’m sure the company will make it good. If you like, you can ask for the service tech to come in while you folks are out of town. We aren’t going anywhere. You can give the company my land line number and my cell number. Just tell them to call me and we can set up a mutually acceptable time for him (or her, or them) to fix the problem. I’ll make the fridge available and stand by to ensure that he (or she or they) do not abscond with either of the girls or Rhalph.

Is Rhalph spelled properly? Or is it Raff? Rhalph looks right to me.

Thanks for the heads-up and the disclaimer. I’m already considering my options in case some calamitous event precipitates a lawsuit. You know, of course, that my son-in-law is an attorney affiliated with one of the most prestigious law firms in the Dallas area.

However, please don’t even think of canceling and rescheduling your sojourn to the mountains. In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that the firm, and therefore my son-in-law, handles only lawsuits lodged against corporations—lawsuits against McDonald’s, for example, in the case of “Elderly Lady Spills Hot Coffee in Lap While Leaving Drive Through Lane,” thereby suffering extreme physical damage caused by the beverage coming in contact with certain highly sensitive epidermal tissue, and irreparable mental anguish caused by the depilatory action of the hot coffee.

As Sean Hannity of Fox News is wont to say, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” My son-in-law is the only lawyer I know, and I have no desire to know any others—nay, I have a pronounced aversion to knowing any others.

Oh, and still in the interest of full disclosure, I made up the part that reads, “. . . one of the most prestigious law firms in the Dallas area.” The firm could well be such, but I have never heard, read or seen the claim in any forum—not in discussions, not in print and not in radio or TV commercials.

Hey, I just realized that today is Saturday (I didn’t really realize it—my wife just told me) and y’all are already on your way, so obviously my offer to stand by while the fridge gets fixed is moot. However, I will give myself full credit for making the offer, albeit a day late, and I’ll still send this e-mail—otherwise I’ve wasted a lot of typing. And I’ll make the same offer for next week, or whenever, just in case you both need to stay on the job.

Enjoy, and be careful—I know that most skiers take the lift up and ski downhill. If you do ski, you should reverse that practice—ski only uphill and take the lift back down, and you’ll never be in danger of attempting to occupy the same space occupied by a tree, a situation that is impossible due to an immutable law of physics, namely that “No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time.” And if you should happen to encounter a tree while speeding uphill, any damage, either to you or the tree, should be negligible.

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

 

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Re: Congress, illegal immigration & missing fingers . . .

This posting consists of an e-mail (and my response) that I received from a friend of my daughter, one that I’ve never met, but I feel that I know the writer well through the e-mail.

This is the friend’s e-mail:

“I know you have enjoyed my rants in the past. Your daughter always asks if I sent something to you that I had sent her. This time I can say, “Yes.”

This runs long. You may need coffee or an intermission so you can go get popcorn and some jujubees. If you make it all the way through you get a prize at the end—high blood pressure.

My rant is as follows:

Mexican illegal alien invaders represent the US State Department’s elephant in the room. They all know he’s here but nobody wants to talk about what it means.

As home to the unwanted illegal alien invader, the United States of America is Mexico’s only real economic and political relief-valve. By allowing the 20 to 30 million illegal alien invaders into the United States, Mexico gains in a multitude of ways. As the illegal alien invader progresses through life in Estados Unidos, the benefits multiply.

Firstly, by breaching our borders and crossing from citizen of Mexico to criminal of the United States, each illegal alien invader voluntarily removes himself or herself from the unemployed Mexican work force.  The levels of unemployment, illiteracy (they are unable to read and write English, nor can they read and write Spanish) and home-grown crime in Mexico are at crisis proportions.

The lack of a middle class and the absence of protections for private property (the Mexican government will rob everyone of their property if it is shown to have value), and the collection of real economic power in the hands of the political elite have assured a national poverty rate that must be an embarrassment to anyone who defends the criminal government in Mexico City.

Every time a Mexican crosses the border into the United States, Mexico City breathes a sigh of relief.  This represents one more mouth they do not have to feed, one more voice that will not shout its disapproval, and one more set of hands that will not fight against the police/drug-lord/federal corruption triumvirate of organized crime in Mexico. Everyone in Mexico is relieved as each illegal alien invader leaves Mexico.

Secondly, the majority of illegal alien invaders will find work in the United States and they will start the transfer of wealth from the United States to their meager homes in the Mexican interior. Like sticking a tube in our national economic artery, this economic “bleeding” parasitically consumes US Dollars that should be used internally and sends them into Mexico. These transfers are Mexico’s second largest economic benefit, directly behind PeMex, the nationalized (can you say, “Maxine Waters”) Mexican petroleum company.  Those transfers are estimated to be worth $20 billion annually.

It was, perhaps, Milton Friedman who showed how a dollar, earned in a community, would be cycled through that same community seven times, on average. Earning the dollar at the plant, a worker would spend it at the butcher, who would spend it at the grocer, who would spend it at the gas pump.  And on it goes until that dollar would be spent outside of the community and the cycle would continue. Whether it was Dr. Friedman or another economist, the principle is easy to understand.

It is just as easy to understand that a wire transfer of an estimated $20 billion would have an equivalent impact of the loss of over $140 billion to the communities where illegal alien invaders sucked the economic life-blood from one nation and transported it to another. In this way, the appearance of cheap illegal alien invader wages must be multiplied to account for the total loss of local currency. It is, therefore, possible that a $20/hour wage translates to a cost of $140/hour.

Thirdly, the unaccounted costs of welfare, give aways,  free services (especially for health care), and education have been estimated by border states for years.  Now, states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania are trying to accrue some tab on these costs as their expenses grow ever higher at the state capitol and the taxpayer burden is becoming painful.

These are costs duly attributable to the Mexico City government, not any local or state or federal government in the United States. Yet, each dollar expended on the welfare and benefit of an illegal alien invader is a dollar (10.325 pesos) that is not a necessary expenditure in Mexico City. Those 10.325 pesos go directly into the pockets of the ruling elite or into the graft and corruption machine that fuels the drug cartels that operate with impunity inside Mexico.

Fourthly, the self-protective imprisonment of the felonious criminal Mexican who walked across the United States border with his petty criminal amigo is like the icing on the Mexico City cake. It is estimated that almost 30 percent of those incarcerated in federal and many state prisons are illegal alien invaders who have come here to commit their crimes.

The Mexican government could not be given a better present. Imagine having the most disruptive and violent criminals removed from the Mexican streets, jailed and fed, and even protected somewhere else, and the government of Mexico doesn’t have to pay a dime. The estimated federal and local cost of incarceration for a year is about $1 billion. There is no way to estimate the loss of property through crime, and the loss of life because of murderous or drunken and irresponsible actions by these same illegal alien invaders for whom we pay an annual $1 billion to incarcerate, just to keep them away from our streets (because if we deport them, they’ll just come back).

With a porous border, what can be done? Almost nothing. Sheriffs across the United States and some local police forces have decided to aggressively pursue illegal alien invaders in their jurisdictions and deport them or get them out of town. This is the illegal alien invader shell game. The only real cure is a complete, forceful and physically closed border with Mexico.

What will we, the United States, promote by closing the border and aggressively campaigning to keep new invaders out?

Mexico is not led by a historically stable government. The political and economic infrastructure is brittle, and incapable of absorbing the additional insult now borne by the United States in our ineffectual remedies to the constant stream of illegal alien invasion.  Stability then, for the Mexican government, depends on the constant leak of their national woes northward. Plugging that leak means all Mexico’s problems remain inside Mexico.

We will be sealing the pressure lid on the simmering economic and political bean pot that is Mexico. The combination of an overnight increase in unemployment, increase in social services load (while Mexico City provides none, the community must), the loss of wire transfers, and the criminal costs will bring the nation to an explosive internal pressure. We would ensure, if not outright condemn, the government in Mexico City to an ugly and bloody civil war.

Unlike our own civil war where the Union had not succeeded in disarming the southern states prior to acts of aggression, the only segments of the Mexican population armed sufficiently to effect an civil war are the military (who would love more power) and the drug cartels (who are tired of sharing profits and benefits of the drug trade with their sycophantic governmental pet Chihuahuas).

Winners of a Mexican Civil War would either be the cruel and dangerous military or the cruel, dangerous and connected drug kingpins.

The United States’ only alternative would be to line these already-closed southern borders with thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of troops, ready to protect the southern states when the inevitable civil war erupts. Indeed, the best and most secure option is to wait for the first sign of conflict and invade Mexico with all our military forces, not stopping until we ride into Mexico City.

And unlike the previous failures after the Mexican-American wars, the United States Congress and its military will only find peace and a lasting solution to the problems created by Mexican governmental and military corruption if the United States accepts unconditional surrender and applies the same policies toward Mexico that we did after defeating Japan and Germany in the Second World War.

The war in Iraq was triggered by national security, but extended by an altruistic intention to deliver a democratic future to a people who have never known it. What makes Iraq such a precious ally and commodity that we would shed our blood in their favor when we would not do the same for ourselves and for our Mexican neighbor?

The third option, and one that strikes at the very heart of socialism in our own United States, is to create working opportunities for Mexicans while closing the spigot of social and welfare services to these immigrant workers. This is, in effect, the Bracero program for the 21st century.

Amnesty is a travesty. No immigrant worker program can offer or entice workers with amnesty. Rather, the workers want work and the United States has an appetite for laborers. Giving companies liberty to recruit and transport workers, while granting ICE and the State Department extraordinary latitude in rejecting and policing these laborers, could have a positive effect on both sides of the border.

The challenges of this approach includes the following:

There can be no public services or resources benefit to any temporary Mexican worker.

ICE, local authorities, and the sponsoring company must be able to return the Mexican worker without any process, except those that may involve criminal justice charges.

Direct family members could be allowed to join the worker, but multiple issues of education and health must be addressed before this is allowed.

Wire transfers of earnings must be limited, or outright denied as part of this program. The United States is not an economic donor for tyrannies.

The sponsor company must bear all financial and other burdens for taxes, health care, education, transportation, housing and Immigration process.

The community must have some input regarding the good stewardship of the companies participating in this program: are they working for the benefit of the community; are they fair and just toward both workers and the community; are they complying with all appropriate immigration requirements; etc?

Automatically granting citizenship to persons born within the borders of the United States, as specified in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, must be addressed.  Both those “anchor babies” already born to illegal alien invaders inside the United States and any future children born to Mexican workers participating in any work program must be denied United States citizenship.  This will require a Constitutional Convention and further defining this one section of the 14th amendment to affect those children born to citizens of countries other than the United States.

The first two immigration solutions available to the United States with regard to Mexico are both frightening. The first is invasion and slow poisoning by an illiterate, violent, consuming foreign force.  The second is to precipitate and then capitalize on a bloody civil war in Mexico.

The first choice relegates the United States to a state of subjugation under the invader. The second, while more immediately costly and painful, retains our national and individual sovereignty and creates a democratic ally to the south.

The third solution requires a federal and state government dedicated primarily to the security and sovereignty of the United States and its citizens. This has not been evidenced in the recent past. All indicators point to federal and state governments that seek political expediency, appeasement of Mexican tyrants, expansion of amnesty and the destruction of the southern border. For this reason, the third solution should only be attempted if there is a fundamental shift toward border security in the measurable goals of our government.

One clear and measurable goal would be to change the 14th Amendment. This would demonstrate the right attitude by our federal representatives.  Otherwise, any program will be nothing more than some flavor of capitulation to Mexico or treason to the Constitution and to the citizens of the United States.

To sum up: our choices with regard to Mexico are:

Slow Poison

War

Foxes in the hen  house.

It’s a tough choice. Can I have “none of the above?”

This is my response:

Hi—thanks for the e-mail. I don’t consider it a rant. It’s a well-researched paper, well thought out and forcefully presented. Keep ’em coming!

The border cannot be closed. The military could link hands from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, California and the line would not slow the illegal entries. They will go under, over, through or around any barrier constructed, living or otherwise, by land, sea and air, and through tunnels.

Anyone who has lived or worked on the border for any significant length of time knows the border cannot be closed. I worked the Texas-Mexico border for 12 years as a Customs inspector trainee, journeyman and supervisor, and in a three-year stint at Customs Headquarters I covered every port on the Mexican border (also most airports, seaports and Canadian land border ports).

I know the border cannot be closed.

Bill O’Reilly at Fox News believes the border can be closed. He’s wrong—the border cannot be closed (he hasn’t asked me about this, but I would be glad to brief him on it).

The onus must be on the employers—if the illegals can’t work, they won’t come—period.

I began my 26-year career with the United States  Customs Service at the international border crossing in Progreso, a small town in the Rio Grande Valley a few miles south of Weslaco, Texas. The port director at Progreso had, in my opinion, a sure-fire way to dry up the flood of illegal immigrants (we called them wet-backs—this was before the current atmosphere of political correctness).

He proposed that one finger be removed from the illegal the first time he (or she) is intercepted, then return him (or her) to Mexico, and remove another finger if that person was again intercepted. If adopted, his suggestion would result in numerous nine-fingered Mexicans, significantly fewer eight-fingered, and virtually none with only seven fingers.

My only suggestion to his plan was to remove the middle finger of one hand for the first offense and the middle finger of the other hand for the second offense. My rationale for that sequence was, of course, intended to prevent the offender from flipping the bird at any US federal officer in any future encounter.

Thanks again for the e-mail—I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And this is the final response by my daughter’s friend:

I think your immigration penalty may be a tad cruel.

Could we, however, use it for membership in Congress?

And finally, these are my final thoughts (finally) on the title subject:

I assume the writer means to remove one finger on the initial election to Congress, whether to the Senate or to the House of Representatives, and the second on the first re-election, etc. And I also assume the same sequence (middle fingers first) would apply to the members of Congress.

I agree—if the OFREE concept (One Finger Removal Each Election) became law, it’s doubtful that we would have any seven-fingered senators or representatives—many with nine fingers, of course, and eventually all with at least one missing finger, but far fewer with only eight fingers and probably none with only seven fingers. It is also doubtful that the law could be made retroactive, principally because some of the current members, particularly in the House of Representatives, would be minus all fingers as well as both thumbs. And there is actually the possibility, albeit it very remote, that eventually the Senate and House would be extinct—one can only dream.

A special footnote for anyone who peruses (reads) this posting and believes it, or is repulsed by it, or considers it cruel and un-American:

Hey, lighten up!

It is satire and nothing more—no investigation by the AFRC (Anti-Finger-Removal Czar) is needed, nor do we need a BOLO for southern-border crossers with fingers missing from either hand, specifically middle fingers.

Our newspapers, novels, movies and television presentations are saturated with crime reports, either true or fictional, so everyone should know the meaning of BOLO. However, this explanation is provided for the edification (enlightenment) of the three persons (estimated) in our population of 330 million (estimated) that do not know:

BOLO is an acronym for Be On Look Out.

PeeEss:

Don’t you just abhor (hate) it when someone uses a word, whether verbal (spoken) or written, then immediately defines (explains) it in the belief that the reader isn’t erudite (having great knowledge) and won’t know the word’s meaning?

I completely understand, and I feel your pain.

I also hate it when someone does that, whether speaking or writing.

 

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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.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2009 in Family, foreign travel, friends, Writing

 

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Age 13—banished from Boy Scouts of America . . .

Long, long ago in another century, having completed 16 years of life and in my seventeenth year, I told a little white lie concerning my age and enlisted in the Army National Guard of the sovereign state of Mississippi. My reason for enlisting was purely selfish—members reported for training one day each month on a Saturday. We dressed in one-piece fatigues, combat boots and fatigue cap, all of which (except for the cap) were far too big for me, and were paid $10 each for our attendance and efforts.

Big money.

My enlistment lasted for one month and 23 days, and then I resigned so I could enlist in the United States Air Force. I told a big non-white lie about my age, a lie which was duly sworn to by me, my mother and the recruiting sergeant (I was still six months short of 17, the age at which enlistment was permitted with parental consent).

A whole set of circumstances prompted that enlistment, not the least of which was the starting salary—$72.50 per month, with a guarantee of promotion from Private to Private First-class after only 13 weeks of training, providing, of course, that  I successfully completed the training. That promotion would include a pay raise of $2.50 per month for a grand total of $75 per month.

Don’t laugh—housing, food, clothing, medical and dental services and the opportunity to see the world (after learning a trade) would all be  free.

Sweet!

But I digress—back to my truncated tour of duty in the Boy Scouts of America:

Just three years before I became a member of America’s fighting forces at age 16, I became a member of the Boy Scouts of America at age 13 in a small town (pop. 2,500) in Mississippi. I was the new kid on the block, and the Scoutmaster of the local Boy Scout troop invited me to join his group. Lured by the promise of adventure, companionship, and the opportunity to learn all sorts of useful crafts and how to survive in the wilderness, I unhesitatingly signed up.

My membership in the state’s Boy Scouts of America chapter lasted even less time than my membership in the state’s National Guard—I was a Boy Scout for one month—just one month, and I was given the boot, ejected with malice and aforethought. Had the Boy Scouts of America been giving dishonorable discharges, I would have received one.

In two short weeks after I joined the Boy Scouts of America, my fascination with that organization had soured, and I was not one to keep discontent bottled up inside. When things went awry in my life, I complained. One shining example of my treatment in the troop, and of my penchant to complain, was a boxing event scheduled by the Scoutmaster, an exercise ostensibly intended to teach us self-defense and proper sportsmanship.

The Scoutmaster divided the troop into pairs, and coupled me with a boy roughly twice my big—older, taller and heavier than I. After my opponent landed several hard blows in the first round (I landed none), I stepped out of the ring. Actually, I stepped across the ring’s perimeter—it was a square marked by a chalk line drawn on the floor. Once safely outside the ring and out of my opponent’s reach, I stated forcefully and emphatically that I was quitting (the fight, not the troop). When I made known my reluctance to continue the fight and my decision to concede, I included some improper language concerning the event. That language was in reference to my opponent and to the obvious lack of fairness in the selection of sparring partners, and was applied forcefully and impartially to my opponent and the Scoutmaster.

The improper language was properly addressed by the Scoutmaster. He admonished me on my behavior, my language and my obvious lack of sportsmanship, and told me that my tenure in the troop depended on my future performance. His lecture was delivered forcefully and loudly in full sight and sound of my erstwhile opponent and the rest of the troop.

Bummer.

Two weeks later the troop went on a 12-mile hike (six miles out, six miles back) to a nature area for an overnight stay. We started our trek early on Saturday morning and reached our destination several hours later, with stops along the way so the Scoutmaster could lecture us on local flora and fauna.For much of the trek we traveled at the Boy Scout pace—10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, 10 steps running, then 10 steps walking, etc.

We arrived at the nature area and established our camp near a small lake, where we  were scheduled for a morning swim the next day before setting out on our return hike to civilization. The rest of the day was devoted to hikes along well-established trails, with the Scoutmaster pointing out items of interest—with explanations such as these:

“This is a pine tree, and these are pine cones.”

“This is an oak tree, and these are acorns.”

“This is a turtle.”

The turtle comment was prompted when one of the Scouts spotted a species of reptile idling along near the trail. I knew it was a land-based tortoise, but being fully aware that I was in enough trouble already, I wisely kept that knowledge to myself.

Near nightfall while returning to our camp, we encountered a remarkably lethargic full-grown Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake lying in the trail. It was a creature of heroic proportions—our Scoutmaster properly identified the snake thusly: “This is a rattlesnake, and its bite is deadly poisonous.” He explained that since snakes are nocturnal and hunt for food at night, this one was probably still digesting his catch of the night before.

He then efficiently and effectively killed the snake, consigned it to the bushes beside the trail so later passersby would not be alarmed by the sight of a dead rattlesnake lying in the trail—a very thoughtful and solicitous person, our Scoutmaster.

At the time my sympathies were with the rattlesnake, but considering an event that transpired later that night I came to appreciate and even admire—nay, I came to bless—the Scoutmaster for his actions.

Read on:

For our evening meal we had an open fire over which we burned, and feasted on, wieners and marshmallows. At a late hour, near midnight, one of the older boys asked if any of us wanted to go snipe hunting. I innocently declared that I had never heard of snipe hunting—as a result of my innocence, I was selected to straddle a ditch in the woods and hold open a burlap bag, and the other boys would spread out and drive any snipe in the area in my direction. I was told that the snipe would be moving very fast, and that I would feel them when they hit the inside of the bag. When I felt them hit, I was to close the bag and return to camp with my catch.

I straddled the ditch, held the bag open and listened to the others shouting and shaking limbs to get the snipe moving in my direction. I held my position and the bag firmly as the noises  faded into the distance and for several hours after that. I held my position and that damn bag into the wee small hours of the morning, until I finally realized, and accepted, the fact that I had been had, thoroughly and severely.

And during all that time I kept my head on a swivel with my eyes and ears wide open, looking and listening for rattlesnakes, deadly poisonous creatures that search for food during the hours of darkness, knowledge that I had gleaned—and retained—from the Scoutmaster’s lecture a few hours earlier. Blessed, or perhaps cursed, with deductive powers, I deduced that their food could possibly include a Boy Scout, especially one of diminutive size.

When I returned to camp all the others were asleep.

I awoke the next morning to an empty camp and footprints all over my opened backpack, a container that had sheltered my breakfast, a meal that should have included bread, bacon and fresh eggs—and would have except for the fact that the eggs were smashed and the bacon and bread slices were in the dirt. I could faintly hear the shouts and laughter of my fellow scouts—my friends—down at the lake, enjoying a morning swim after a hearty breakfast, one which I slept through because of my late return to camp.

Please be patient—I’m almost to the end of this tragic tale.

I arose, dressed, tinkled into the smoldering campfire ashes (I felt that as a Boy Scout, it was my solemn duty to do my best to prevent forest fires) and started a search for the dead rattlesnake. I found it, took it by the tail and dragged it, unseen behind me, down to the water’s edge near the dock. All my fellow scouts—my friendswere in the water and none paid any attention to me as I walked down the slope.

When I got to the water’s edge I began whirling the dead snake around over my head, and when I had it moving fast I shouted, “Snake!” and loosed the rattler toward the largest group of Boy Scouts in the water. The snake scored a direct hit, a splash-down right in the middle of the group. The boys scattered in all directions, some swimming for the dock, some for the bank, and some for open water—one boy put his head down and frantically thrashed toward the dock, sporting a rooster tail as he swam. He neglected to raise his head to take his bearings and crashed into the dock, opening a nice gash in his scalp as a result of his negligence.

When we left the nature area the Scoutmaster would not allow me to march with the troop for the return trip—I was banished to the rear of the formation and ordered to “stay there and eat dust.” That was no problem for me—I hated that routine of running ten steps, then walking ten steps, etc., etc. The troop stuck to the routine and trotted out of my sight long before we reached town.

On our return to town I was drummed out of the Boy Scouts unceremoniously, without being accorded the entertaining formalities used by old-time military commanders and depicted in Hollywood western movies.

Picture this:

John Wayne standing stiffly at attention with his commanding officer ripping off epaulets, stripes, shoulder patches, sleeve patches showing years of service and service overseas, and the chest-full of medals and decorations Wayne had earned by fighting the deadly redskins, all witnessed by the entire company, and then his hip-twitching slow walk out of the fort as the massive gates were swung open for his exit, away from the fort, the U. S. Army and his long-time fighting companions and into whatever the future might hold in store for him, all accompanied by the sonorously sad beat of the drum.

No, I had not earned the privilege of being officially drummed out of the Service—I was simply told, “You’re out. Don’t come back.”

No explanation was necessary—I knew very well why I was no longer a Boy Scout. In retrospect, I rationalized that I never really wanted to be a Boy Scout anyway—after all, I was invited to join in the beginning, and I succumbed to pressure exerted by the Scoutmaster and a few of my peers.

I was innocent—the fault was theirs.

That’s it—my enlistment in the Boy Scouts lasted only one month, three weeks short of my stint in the Mississippi National Guard. I earned no merit badges, not one, didn’t even come close to earning one. I earned no diplomas, received no recognition (other than the Scoutmaster’s acknowledgment of my nefarious activities). I never had an opportunity to assist a little old lady across the street or splint a bird’s broken wing or start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and I never had a prayer of attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

Joke:

Wanna know how to start a fire in the wilderness?

Rub two Boy Scouts together.

Sorry about that and I apologize, but it’s out of my control. I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Childhood, friends, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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Annabelle died on Monday . . .

AnnieBelleMy best friend died on Monday, the nineteenth of January 2009, at exactly 3:33 p.m. while I was rushing her to the doctor. She was born with an enlarged heart, a heart which abruptly failed after serving her well for more than 12 years. The friend that died was Annie, a beautiful long-haired calico cat, and a loved and loving member of our family for more than 10 years.

Sue, a dear friend who lives in Alabama, learned of our loss and sent a beautiful sympathy card and a touching consolation e-mail. After reading my response, she sent the following e-mail:

“My heart continues to go out to you and Janie—it truly does take time for a broken heart to heal. Thank you for the touching e-mail and for sharing your heart with me. What a blessing you, Janie and Annie all were to one another—truly one of life’s most precious gifts. I look forward to seeing you both again sometime this year. Meanwhile, keep in mind when you see Annie again, you’ll be seeing Cindy and me also—we’re a package deal.

“With so much heartfelt love, Sue.”

This e-mail was my belated response to Sue’s initial card and e-mail:

“Sue, please forgive us for not responding sooner to your heartfelt e-mail and your beautiful card. Janie and I have had a difficult time dealing with Annie’s death. We have just now been able to discuss her without both of us breaking down. We see her in every room and in every position, and hear sounds, especially during the night, which remind us of her and, for an ever-so-brief moment, bring her back to us. We have had other pets and loved them all, but before Annie we never knew that a creature’s love could be so deep and strong and forgiving, and that such love could be demonstrated in so many ways.

“Annie and I were a couple for ten years, and we remain a couple. Since her death I have come to realize that she and I were, and still are, soul mates, and I believe that our separation is temporary. Yes, I believe that animals have souls, and it appears that Pope John Paul II agreed with me. That can be confirmed at this web site:

http://www.dreamshore.net/rococo/pope.html

“I’ve spent a lot of time online recently. I found a poem, one so sad that it broke my heart, but it is so uplifting that at the same time my heart was breaking, my spirit soared. The poem can be found, with numerous variations, on many web sites by googling “rainbow bridge poem.”

Annie & DadHere is the poem in its entirety:

“Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

“When a pet that has been especially close to someone here dies, that beloved pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals that were ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those that were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one thing; they each miss someone very special to them who was left behind.

annie at comp 2“They all run and play together, but the day will come when a special one—the most special among the special—will suddenly stop and look into the distance. Her bright eyes are intent. Her eager body quivers. Suddenly she leaves the group and begins to run, flying over the green grass, her legs carrying her faster and faster.

“Annie has spotted me, and when we meet we will cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. Her happy kisses will rain upon me; my hands will again caress her, and I will look again into the trusting eyes of my Annie, so long gone from my life but never absent from my heart.

“Then we’ll cross Rainbow Bridge together. . .”

Annie2I took the liberty of changing the poem to make it personal—it wasn’t easy—making the changes was difficult and the tears flowed freely, but the physical catharsis provided some psychological relief—albeit temporary.

Thank you, Sue, for the sympathy and understanding expressed in your e-mail, and thanks for the beautiful card. You’re one of a select group of people, quite rare, who can convey their most profound feelings to others—willingly, unsolicited and without hesitation. Janie and I are proud of your friendship for us and for Cindy (our favorite daughter, but don’t tell the other two!).

May God bless you and keep you—you’re always welcome in our home.

We’ll leave the light on for you.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2009 in death, Family, friends, pets

 

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