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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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A household of many aunts and uncles, including Braxton . . .

In my grandparents household, the grandparents on my mother’s side of the family, there were numerous sons and daughters, with the result that I had many aunts and uncles. All were born considerably earlier than I, and since I am near completing the eighth decade of my life, all have sloughed off the mortal coils of this life and transferred to another, perhaps a better one than this—at least it is to be hoped that it is a better one. I know of nothing that would have caused the powers-that-be to sentence them to a worse life for the remainder of eternity.

Did you get that—remainder of eternity?

Does eternity have a remainder?

That’s kinda profound, don’t you think?

The youngest of the brood of children birthed and reared by my grandparents was a boy named Braxton, known to family and friends as Brack), but to me he was  Uncle Brack. I was far advanced into adulthood long before he left us, but I never had the temerity to call him by his name—he was always Uncle Brack, a man I idolized and longed mightily to be like when I grew up—I wanted to be just like him and do the same kind of work he did.

Over the years Uncle Brack was a share-cropper farmer, a farmer in his own right, a store-keeper, a used-car salesman and a bus driver. Only the profession of bus driver attracted me. He worked for the Miss–Ala Stage Line, a bus company that plied a route between various towns, and one of its routes moved passengers back and forth between Vernon, Alabama and Columbus, Mississippi, a distance of some 30 miles. Vernon was a small town with few people and few amenities, and Columbus had many, including theaters, restaurants, department stores and small industrial components that provided jobs for people from Vernon.

Get it? Miss–Ala? Mississippi plus Alabama?

Uncle Brack’s bus driver uniform was a white shirt with black bow-tie, gray trousers with a black stripe down the side of each leg, and a gray hat with a large metal cap badge and a shiny black brim—he always wore the cap jauntily cocked to one side like our World War II aviators wore theirs. A holster on his belt at his right side held his ticket-punching machine, one with which he always executed a quick-draw, twirled it several times with it coming to rest in his palm, ready to punch a passenger’s ticket. In the eyes of a small boy in the 1930s, he was a combination of all the heroes in Zane Grey novels and in James Fennimore Cooper’s stories of the Native Americans of our great Northeast. In short, when I was a small boy I wanted to be exactly like my Uncle Brax.

He was an inveterate joker—he could no more resist making jokes, practical or otherwise, than the sun can resist rising in the east and setting in the west, and he  regaled any gathering which he attended with his stories. One that he told repeatedly involved a lady that had sneaked a black cat on when she boarded his bus. He said that before he left the station he saw the cat in his rear-view mirror and announced that The lady with that black pussy will have to leave. He said that five women left the bus and the others crossed their legs.

I never believed that story—I thought it was funny, even though I wasn’t sure why it was so funny. I didn’t believe it because in those days people rode the bus with pet cats and dogs, and even with a shoat in a gunnysack—for those unfamiliar with that phrase, that’s a pig in a poke, an actual young porker purchased at an auction in Columbus and now en route to a farm in Alabama where it would be fed and pampered until it became a hog, then slaughtered in the fall for the larder of a farm family, and that’s a fact—I’ve seen such cargo carried on a Miss-Ala  Stage Line bus more than once, and I’ve also seen such cargo carried on trains that ran between Columbus  and various small towns in Mississippi—that’s a subject for a future posting, so stay tuned!

People often bought baby chicks from a Columbus hatchery and boarded the bus with 100 peeping baby chickens in a flat box, similar to a pizza box but somewhat larger, with small round holes built into the sides of the box to provide oxygen for its occupants. Uncle Brack loved to tell the story of the time a lady—a very large lady—boarded his bus with such a box. En route to its destination of Vernon, Alabama, bumping along on a rutted potholed graveled road, the box fell from her lap and spilled the baby chicks, called biddies by country folk—out on the floor, and they scampered to all points of the globe, constrained only by the limits of the bus. The lady frantically ran around gathering them up and putting them back in the box, and at one point she leaned far over from the waist and the pressure on her stomach produced a certain sound, one that resonated all over the bus. A drunk passenger was watching the lady in her quest for the biddies and spoke up with a sage bit of advice, saying That’s right, lady, if you can’t catch ’em, shoot ’em! I remember other Brackisms, but most are not completely suitable for postings on WordPress.

Uncle Brack was a likeable fellow and ladies found him attractive, and he took full advantage of that attractiveness whenever the opportunity arose, so to speak. According to my mother—his sister—when Uncle Brack came in from a night out, usually tanked up with Alabama moonshine or beer illegally transported across the Alabama state line from Mississippi, his mother—my grandmother—would go through his pockets and retrieve any items that were manufactured ostensibly for the prevention of disease, but in those long ago days were mostly used for the prevention of pregnancies—condoms. As my mother told the story, on his wedding day she presented a gift, a cigar box filled with unused condoms. I believe the story because I believe my mother—had Uncle Brack told the story I would not have believed it.

After all that carousing around in search of a bride—that’s what he told his mother he was doing—Uncle Brack married a widow, a sturdy no-nonsense woman with two children from her first marriage, a six-year old girl and a boy of 12 years. The couple stayed married for many years, adding three more children to the family, and the marriage was ended only by his death. During those years of marriage I never heard a word—not even a hint—that Uncle Brack ever returned to his errant ways with women. It was, in effect, a marriage made in heaven.

There’s lots more to be told about my Uncle Brack, but I’ll hold it in abeyance for future postings, so stay tuned.

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

 
 

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How to build a fire in the wilderness . . .

This posting is prompted by a comment made by my daughter, a lovely young woman that comprises one-third of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and has a full-time job tending to and pacifying one husband, one son, one daughter and one Miniature Australian Shepherd, aptly named Wrigley.

A special note: That Miniature Australian Shepherd—the one aptly named Wrigley and tended to and pacified by my daughter—is a dog, a sweet, friendly, intelligent and talented canine—sweeter, friendlier, more intelligent and more talented than some homo sapiens I have known. Wrigley is a dog—he is not a person of diminutive size, of Australian heritage and a tender of sheep—I just felt that I should set the record straight on that! And one more thought concerning Wrigley: He is indeed wriggly—wriggly to a fault—he wriggles incessantly, but it is neither his fault nor mine that my daughter misspells his name. I have pointed out the misspelling, but she rambles on and on about some field called Wrigley—that shouldn’t happen to a dog!

The image above shows Wrigley and friends—these three constitute three-fourths of those my daughter loves, tends to and pacifies. Brennan is on the left, Macie is on the right and Wrigley is in the center.

The image on the right shows Brennan and Macie with last year’s Santa Claus—that’s Santa in the center. Santa in the center sounds kinda like hip-hop, doesn’t it? It could be a starter for a bit of Christmas wrapping—get it? Wrapping versus rapping, get it? Oh, alright, forget it!

Apparently Brennan has figured out the Santa Claus thing—this is the first Christmas that he has questioned his mother as to why Santa is wearing sneakers instead of shiny black boots.

My daughter’s comment was on my posting of some of my boyhood activities—click here for an exciting tour of the Big Ditch, a story of dining out on frog legs, building a fire without two Boy Scouts to rub together and other fascinating renditions of my life as a youngster living in a house on the south side in Columbus, Mississippi.

This is my daughter’s comment on the Big Ditch blog:

Ok, I didn’t know about this. Who knew how to start a fire?  How did you cook the frogs?  This is very Grapes of Wrathish, Dad.  And to think we didn’t even go camping when we were growing up…look what we missed out on.  Great story.

This is my response to her questions:

We started a fire in those days by using something known as matches. They were small pieces of wood about the length of wooden toothpicks with a bulbous red and white ball at one end, a ball that would burst into flames when scratched on a rough surface, and that flame was applied to a pile of dry leaves and/or dry grass, and various bits of bark and dry sticks were added as the fire progressed.

The matches came in a colorful box similar to the boxes that banks use to mail a new supply of checks to their customers. I was frequently dispatched to the store to purchase a nickel box of matches—and can anyone guess the cost of a nickel box of matches?

Hey, you guessed it! A nickel box of matches cost just five cents and no tax, only one twentieth of a dollar, a nickel. I never counted the number of matches in a nickel box of matches, but I know that they numbered in the hundreds, and perhaps a thousand or more—that box held a lot of matches!

We did not cook the entire frog—we used only the legs, amputating and skinning them, then into the pan for frying in pure lard, an item always available in any kitchen in the land. And I know that none will believe me when I say that the frogs were still hopping around for hours following the surgery—looking back on it I would like to think that bullfrogs grew new legs, much as the salamander, or geco or whatever that little fellow is called, grows a new tail when a predator relives him of the old one—that isn’t likely, of course—it was probably nothing more than reflex.

Okay, I’ll admit it—that’s a joke, a bit grim and gross but still a joke—they had no back legs and could not possibly be hopping around. And if anyone finds the joke offensive and complains in the comment section, possibly someone connected with PETA, I will consider removing it—consider, mind you—the actual removal would depend on the number of comments, their sources and their content—that’s fair enough, don’t you think?

Click here to learn everything you ever wanted to know about matches.
Below is a brief definition of a match,  plagiarized from Wikipidea and provided here in order to stimulate your appetite for more information.

A match is a small stick of wood or strip of cardboard with a solidified mixture of flammable chemicals deposited on one end. When that end is struck on a rough surface, the friction generates enough heat to ignite the chemicals and produce a small flame. Some matches, called strike-anywhere matches, may be ignited by striking them on any rough surface. Other matches, called safety matches, will ignite only when they are struck on a special rough surface containing certain chemicals.

The matches were used—and still are used—by smokers to light their cigarettes in underdeveloped nations and in certain remote areas of the United States, primarily in mountainous and swampy areas in southern states. There were three smokers in my family—my mother and two older sisters, and a nickel box of matches was emptied in a short time. And just as an aside, a few years later when my mother—yes, your grandmother Hester—taught me to play poker we used those giant matches as poker chips, and as dollar chips when she taught me to play dice—to shoot craps, if you will. So much for the parental warning for kids never to play with matches, right?

Nowadays folks light their cigarettes with items known as lighters. One of those items is a slender cylindrical pistol-grip rod equipped with a trigger—one needs only pull the trigger and a blue flame of some unknown composition leaps out and is applied to whatever  combustible material that one wishes to light, whether gas logs in the fireplace, an outdoor gas grill or a non-filter-tipped Camel cigarette or a filter-tipped Kool cigarette, the smokes of choice for the smokers in my family.

Just a word of caution here: Should one choose to use the pistol-grip lighter to light a cigarette, the cigarette should be of considerable length and the flame applied carefully, otherwise the user’s mustache, eyebrows, lips, nose and other facial features may suffer horribly.

Cigar and cigarette smokers have their choice of an infinite variety of other devices also known as lighters, items normally carried by males in a pocket and by ladies in a purse. Extraction of the lighter and a flick of one’s thumb produces the wherewithal to cause the end of a cigarette or cigar to begin the burning process through which one is enabled to inhale smoke containing scadjillions of cancer-causing elements, most of which are left behind in the smoker’s lungs after exhaling.

Ain’t progress wonderful?!

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

A special note for my daughter: I apologize for the absence of camping trips while you were in the process of growing up, but after you achieved the status of grown-up—long after—well, not that long—you and I and your mother and your Aunt Winnie spend a week camping in Nevada and Utah, albeit in various hotels and motels, but it was a hoot, right?

Right?

Right!

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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