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An irrestible urge . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I remember Mama—thoughts of my mother . . .

Countless times over the years I heard my mother say that she was not afraid to die, that she had lived her life with love for her Maker and in deference to Him, and that she was ready to meet Him at any time He called her. My mother believed that if one had faith, even though that faith be no larger than a mustard seed, then everything would be alright regardless of the situation, whether it be sickness or hunger or severe weather or any other danger looming on the horizon. And if you’ve ever seen a mustard seed you’ll have a good idea of how much leeway that gives one regarding the amount of faith one must have as one travels through life in this realm—let’s just agree that the size of a mustard seed leaves a lot of room for error, for straying from the straight and narrow path.

In late November of 1980 my mother was hospitalized with an embolism near the heart and was scheduled for surgery. She was so thin and the embolism was so large that it was visible under the skin, expanding and contracting with every heartbeat. When I arrived at the hospital late in the afternoon she was in the Intensive Care Unit, scheduled for surgery early the next morning.

She was understandably fearful of the pending surgery, and I told her that her fear was normal, that anyone would be afraid, and then I reminded her of the oft-quoted power of the mustard seed, the seed that if faith were no larger than, then everything would be alright.

My mother’s answer? With tears flowing freely she said, I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to hear any more about that mustard seed!

My mother was a heavy smoker, beginning in her teenage years and continuing through adulthood and middle age and later. She never really became old—her body took her into old age and reflected that long journey, but her mind and her thoughts and her outlook on life remained young, right up to the end of her time here on earth. Somewhere around the age of fifty she enrolled in a course of mail order studies and eventually became an LPN, a Licensed Practical Nurse. She often nursed persons rendered helpless after years of smoking and she was well aware of the dangers of the habit.

In response to admonitions to quit smoking, she always said that she would quit smoking when she was eighty years old. She smoked her last cigarette on her eightieth birthday in 1977, and her death came in November of 1980, almost four years later. Her surgery was one of those instances, according to her doctors, in which the surgery was a success but the patient died—her heart was not strong enough to endure the invasive and intensive surgery.

One of her doctors told us that her lungs were remarkably clear, particularly considering some six decades of smoking. I’ve never believed that—his comment was probably meant to be some sort of balm in an attempt to keep her survivors for blaming her cigarette habit for her death. It was not necessary—none of us placed any blame on her—our blame was aimed at the cigarette makers.

That’s it—that’s the story of my mother’s surgery and her death, the only time that I was present when a member of my family died, although I was privileged to attend the funerals of several relatives during my boyhood days. One by one my family members fell—mother, father, brother, five sisters and my stepfather, not necessarily in that order, of course. From the age of sixteen I was far off from home and was able to attend only a few of the funerals, whether my immediate family or those of assorted relatives—brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins—all gave up this realm for another as the result of accidents, disease, old age and in one instance, suicide—none was murdered, at least none of which I am aware.

Of my immediate family I am the last one standing. I’m not particularly proud of that, but I’m not disappointed either. I remain, I exist, perhaps due to the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice, or the turn of the wheel, or perhaps because of divine providence. Perhaps the Creator has a special purpose for me.

Hey, it could be—perhaps some day my WordPress musings, my ramblings, will be consolidated in a pseudo autobiography and published world-wide in numerous languages, and perhaps my tales, my escapades, my foibles and my frolics will influence someone to turn away from a life of sin and pleasure and become a monk and one day become the Pope, the holy keeper of the Catholic faith, the only living link with St. Peter, an apostle of Christ and the rock on which He built His house.

And perhaps not.

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

Postscript: I’ll be back later with more thoughts of my mother—stay tuned.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Jawbreakers, bubble gum & molested chickens

World War II was over—the bombs had eradicated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and large segments of their populations, and neither my stepfather’s carpenter talents nor my talent to deliver newspapers were needed in Tennessee. The modular homes were being disassembled and the areas where hundreds of families had been living would soon revert to the wild. We left Happy Valley, Tennessee and returned to Mississippi because my stepfather had recently bought a 40-acre farm, complete with a skid-mounted grocery store with one manually operated gasoline pump, a small house, a large barn, a chicken house and an adequate outhouse.

His purchase included one milk cow, one white mule, one brown mule and a motley flock of chickens—White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds with a sprinkling of speckled hens. The flock was serviced by one lone rooster, a Rhode Island Red, hence his name Red.

Oh, and one more item concerning the chickens. Several of the hens were in poor physical shape. I learned soon after we moved to the farm that the hens had been—ah, had been subjected to—uh, ah, okay, I’ll just come right out and say it—they had been sexually molested, presumably by that dolt of a teenage farm boy in the family that previously owned the farm.

That was a presumption voiced by my stepfather, except that he didn’t use the term sexually molested—many of the words he used to explain the physical condition of the hens and to express his displeasure were limited to only one or two syllables. I’ve often pondered on that presumption, wondering and speculating on whether he arrived at that conclusion from reading, from other conversations or from experience—my stepfather grew up on a farm in Alabama.

I never knew, and I definitely was unwilling to question him. I’ll get back to you later with more information on that, so stay tuned. Until then, I’ll close that portion of life on the farm by saying that my stepfather put the hens out of their misery with blasts from a 16-gauge shotgun, after which the carcasses were buried far from the house, feathers and all, except for those that were scattered by the pellets.

There were no cats, an absence unusual for a farm. Also included in the purchase were two small terrier dogs, a pair that served no useful purpose and came to an untimely end through action taken by my stepfather soon after we took residence on the farm, again with the 16-gauge shotgun.

Also included in his purchase of the farm, to my dismay, were several acres of unpicked cotton. For the edification of those familiar with Roy Clark’s song in which he sang proudly that he never picked cotton, I am here to tell you that I have picked cotton and I didn’t like it. Early in cotton season, pickers were paid a penny a pound to pick, and later in
the season when the bowls were sparse and farther apart, pickers earned
two cents a pound.

I strived mightily to pick a hundred pounds in one day, but never made it, no matter how early I started and how late I stayed in the cotton field, and no matter how many times I peed in the cotton sack, an time-honored country-boy scheme to add weight to his pickings. Another way to increase the weight was to start picking at or before good daylight and pick frantically while the dew was still on the cotton, thereby adding the weight of the water—not much, but pennies went a long way back in the good old days.

One penny would buy a cigarette, two crackers with one’s choice of cheese or bologna or sausage, and a plethora of penny candies—an all-day sucker, a jaw-breaker, one piece of bubble gum or one stick of gum, a small handful of jelly beans and one’s choice of various individually wrapped candies such as Tom’s Peanut-butter Logs.

I have a vivid memory of reading a newspaper article saying that the price of cotton paid at auction was forty-one cents a pound, a total of $205 for a 500 pound bale. I was brash enough to ask my stepfather why he paid only two cents a pound for pickers when he was getting twenty times that amount, and he treated me to a prolonged lesson in economics—that effectively broke me from asking any more questions.

I have many more stories to tell about my brief life on the farm. One involves a beautiful cross-eyed redhead, another a tree filled with turkeys and still another of a wild cat I captured and thereby indirectly caused his death, so stay tuned—there’s more to come.

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

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Thoughts on Jane Russell, death & Dragnet

An article in San Antonio’s Express-News—the only daily newspaper in the seventh largest city in the United States—on Monday, 28 February 2011 states that the cause of death for Jane Russell, the generously endowed star of Howard Hughes’ 1941 movie The Outlaw, was respiratory failure. Stop me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t respiratory failure be the cause of death in every instance? I should think that whatever other condition caused the respiratory apparatus to fail would be the real cause of death.

Let’s at least agree on this point—when we say that death was caused by respiratory failure, we are saying that the departed stopped breathing, a term equivalent to saying that someone died because the heart stopped beating. That isn’t enough—we need to know why the departed stopped breathing and why the heart stopped beating. Either of those actions, or their failure to act, will cause the other to happen—when the heart stops beating the breathing also stops, and when the breathing stops the heart stops beating, and neither is the actual cause of death.

Each of us has the innate ability to contribute to the world’s store of statistics, other than just the statistic of having died, and the opportunity to make that contribution is given to us at the time of our death, namely the cause of our death. Was it by our own hand, thereby joining the ranks of suicide statistics? Was it suicide by firearm, hanging, wrist-cutting or a heart attack caused by an overdose of Viagra? As the immortal Jack Webb would say, speaking as Detective Joe Friday in his role as a police detective in the black-and-white television show Dragnet, We just want the facts, M’am, just the facts.

I realize that the Jack Webb skit above is not germane to this posting, but I wanted to show him in action and share his sleuthing techniques with my viewers. I know, I know—I have a lot of time on my hands. There are too many wrongs in this world and too little time to right them, but I will soldierly strive on in my efforts—it’s in my nature.

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

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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

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

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

I have never felt better in my life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you guess who said that?

Give up?

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

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

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

 

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Mark Twain, Pythagoras, poetry, death . . .

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

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

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

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

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

The poem, Annette, also included this beautiful verse:

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

Flashing golden to the sun.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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One soul departs, and another arrives . . .

One soul departs,

and  another arrives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was in my heart today:

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

Dear Mike,

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

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

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

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

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

With Sad, Sad, Sadness,

Your Neighbor, Your Friend,

Kathy

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

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

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

 

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