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A skeleton and a hangman in Harry Reid’s closet . . .

This e-mail, dated December 13, 2010 is from a long-time friend, a great lady that left the semi-arid spaces of San Antonio, Texas for greener pastures in another realm earlier in 2010. Evidently my computer considered it to be spam and sent it straight to my junk mail. I was cleaning out the files and I found it just this morning. It was a bit startling because she died in the summer of 2010, long before the date of this e-mail, but then I realized that her husband is still using her e-mail for correspondence.

I hesitated a long time—about five seconds—before deciding to post this on my blog for the edification, enlightenment and amusement of my readers. Whether true or not, I’ll bet you’ll find it just as humorous as I did. I doubt that the senator will read this, but if he does I’ll bet it will elicit a smile—at the very least.

A Lesson in Creative Writing

It’s all about how you put it into words . . .

Judy Wallman, a professional genealogy researcher in southern California, was doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that Senator Harry Reid’s great-great uncle, Remus Reid, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. Both Judy and Harry Reid share this common ancestor. The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows  in   Montana territory.

On the back of the picture Judy obtained during her research is this inscription:

Remus Reid, horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.

So Judy recently e-mailed Congressman Harry Reid for information about their great-great uncle. The reply was as follows:

Senator Harry Reid

Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the  Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.

Now that’s how it’s done, folks—that’s real political spin!

That’s her story and I’m helping her stick to it.

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Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Humor, Obama administration, politics

 

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The purloined watermelon . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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19th Street South—a goose for Thanksgiving . . .

The word goose in the above title is not intended to be a verb, one that refers to the application of one’s hand, normally using the middle digit, to the derriere of another person, a motion that can be applied lightly, forcefully, brutally, playfully, laughingly, meaningfully or enjoyably but never accidentally. If one has goosed or has been goosed, both gooses were delivered purposefully and received unwittingly without choice—no, in this usage the plural of goose is not geese.

The word goose in the above title is a noun, the name for a large bird that exists in large numbers in the wild, but a bird that is also domesticated and raised for its food and feathers. In this case the plural of goose is geese—the birds shown on the right are geese.

When I was a child in Columbus, Mississippi we lived some thirty miles from our relatives in Alabama, and on Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays we traveled to Alabama to celebrate the day or they traveled to Columbus for the same reason. I can vividly remember a Thanksgiving that was celebrated at our house. a celebration that featured a large cast-iron wash pot and a large not-cast-iron goose.

On the day before Thanksgiving the men fashioned a tripod using lengths of 2×4 lumber similar to the method used by Indians to erect a tepee (also spelled tipi). A fire was laid in the center of the circle formed by the structure but not immediately lighted, the iron tub was firmly suspended from the apex of the tripod and filled with water and the goose, nicely cleaned of everything deemed not edible, went into the pot along with requisite other items—onions, potatoes, carrots and everything else that goes good with goose, and the fire was lighted and the goose was cooked—in fact, one could say truthfully that the goose’s goose was cooked—-just a bit of humor there!

The fire was tended for the remainder of that day and far into the night while the goose cooked and we children played, but never beyond the light supplied by the fire and by lights mounted on the sides of the house. The women sat and talked about everything and everybody except themselves and sang gospel songs, and the men talked about hunting and farming and fishing—occasionally one of the men would walk away just outside the circle of light and tilt a bottle up toward the moon to take a quick swig of its contents—they seemed to be taking turns at that—I’m unsure whether it was the same bottle, but I imagine there was more than one among the group

I was away from the scene and tucked in for the night long before the contents of the pot were removed and taken to the kitchen to await the next day’s carving and dining, kids playing, women gossiping and singing more church hymns and the men taking frequent short walks behind the house with a not-so-mysterious bulge in their shirt or hip pocket.

That goose—the bird, not the verb—was gifted by one of the visiting Alabama relatives that kept a flock of geese around the house for food purposes and to a lesser extent for watch purposes—yep, geese make good watchdogs and will sound the alarm when necessary—actually sound the alarm when anyone is near, whether friend or foe—it’s in their nature.

We lived next door to one of my mother’s sisters, a family of four—counting that four, our five and the relatives from Alabama there was a real gaggle of people gathered for Thanksgiving dinner, and we needed a lot of goose. To emphasize the number of people, picture a flatbed two-ton truck with no sideboards and its flatbed covered with passengers, folks lined on three sides with legs dangling and with more riders seated in the center plus several standing at the rear of the truck’s cab and several more in the cab. The dangling legs belonged to adults—the children were safely ensconced in the center of the flatbed.

The image above shows the actual gathering on that Thanksgiving day. It’s a painting made from a quick sketch by one of my uncles and later put on canvas—acrylic, I believe. The other image, by the same uncle, is a painting of my mother presenting the cooked goose to the diners—the fellow behind her is her boyfriend.

Hey, I knew I couldn’t fool my readers—you’re right—that image is a painting of the first Thanksgiving created by American artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930), and that is not my mother in the other image, nor is that her boy friend. That’s a painting by Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), one of the Four Freedoms series painted by one of America’s best-loved and most-collected artists—this is his conception of Freedom from Want. The others are Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear and Freedom of Worship.

The truck was overloaded when it arrived, but somehow when it left late in the afternoon on Thanksgiving day it accommodated all that had arrived on it plus me and my youngest sister and all the leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner, including a considerable amount of goose and goose dressing—yes, that was one large goose and a monumental amount of goose dressing.

That’s my story of a memorable Thanksgiving day when I was a boy, and I’m sticking to it!


 
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Posted by on June 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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A letter to Sue . . .

A long-time friend and neighbor of our daughter—the princess that lives, loves and works in Virginia—relocated with her husband from Virginia to Alabama, and that relocation prompted this letter. I’m posting it now in order to record our respect and love for her, and for her friendship and love for our daughter. For many years she and our daughter provided a safe port for each other, a haven to protect one another through all weather, either fair or foul, whether in or out of their neighborhood. They still maintain that friendship, over a considerable distance than before. Our daughter created a keepsake album for Sue, and this letter was our contribution to the album.

This is the letter, exactly as originally written:

Dear Sue,

We’re glad to hear that you’ve found a new home so quickly, and we wish you every success and happiness in your new location. However, we are sorely disappointed that we won’t have the opportunity to spend more time with you—the time we had with you on our visit with Cindy several years ago was all too short.

With your permission (actually, you have no choice in the matter), we will use our space in your album to tell others what sort of a person you are and perhaps in the telling others will learn what sort of people we are. We used the alphabet (English, of course) to describe the characteristics we observed in the brief time we had with you. We also formed some opinions and cemented others in many conversations with Cindy (yes, we talked about you). You’ll note that the adjectives are all positive—no matter how we searched, we couldn’t come up with any negatives.

Twenty-four of the twenty-six words came easy, based on our visit, conversations with Cindy, and our observations of you in numerous photos sent by Cindy—Weedette meetings, costume parties, chocolate parties, painting parties and more—oh, and in the glamor photos Cindy sent, of course.

The two letters in the alphabet which gave us some heartburn were X and Y, so we referred to the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, an item which I “accidentally” packed with my personal files when I retired. It’s appropriately marked PROPERTY OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT. We gave the government 48 years, so we figured that was enough to compensate for the loss of the dictionary.

In the remote possibility that you are not familiar with “zingy” and “xanaduic,” we’ll save you a trip to the dictionary: American Heritage defines zingy as “pleasantly stimulating, especially attractive or appealing.” Xanadu was a bit more difficult—the word is defined as “an idyllic, beautiful place.” We felt that the term could be applied to a person as well as a place, so we coined a new word— xanaduic (we briefly considered “xanaduish,” but somehow it lacks the dash and verve—panache, if you will—conveyed by “xanaduic”).

Here are the 26 words we feel will afford others some insight into your character and personality— if you disagree with any, we’ll be glad to discuss—as in argue—them with you.

Affable                Judicious              Sagacious

Beautiful            Knowledgeable    Tactful

Charming           Lighthearted        Unassuming

Delightful           Merry                     Vivacious

Effervescent       Neat                        Wise

Friendly              Open-minded       Xanaduic

Genuine              Perspicacious        Youthful

Heartwarming   Queenly                  Zingy

Iridescent            Righteous

We’ll wrap this up by wishing you and Steve the very best that life has to offer, including health, wealth, long-life and happiness. If you’re ever in our area, drop in—we’ll leave the light on for you.

Mike and Janie, the Queen and King of Texas

(Appointed and anointed by Debbi Coney — thanks, Debbi!).

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Ann Landers—The station . . .

This posting is a letter to Ann Landers and her response to the letter writer.  Robert J. Hastings’ The Station may be found on the internet with some variations, but the story and its message are always the same. The date it was published in Newsday is unknown, but I’ve had my typewritten copy (remember typewriters?) for twenty years or more—it’s pretty faded and smudged now, but its pertinence and its heartfelt pathos are still there, and it still tugs at my heartstrings when I read it. I’m posting it here for those that may have missed the publication at the time, and for the multitudes that have come along since it was published. There is a lesson to be learned here, if one will only take the time time to read it and digest its message—and then, perhaps, to apply the message to one’s own life.

The Newsday header for Ann Landers reply was:

Life must be lived one day at a time

Dear Ann Landers,

In July of 1985, my wife was diagnosed as having terminal cancer. Shortly afterward, your column on The Station by R. J. Hastings appeared in Newsday. For years, we had talked of some day going to Paris, a city I fell in love with as a GI. The day after I read the poem, I realized that it was time to pull into the station.

As soon as the doctor ok’d the trip, we went to Paris and had the most beautiful vacation of our 43 years. My lovely wife passed away a year and a half after the diagnosis.

I have since taken the liberty of passing copies of that column to friends. One purchased his some day car. Another went on a long-delayed trip. But the station also can mean visiting a sick friend, and that some day should be now. There is so much hurt in looking back and remembering those things we intended to do and didn’t.

Thank you, Ann Landers, for Paris.

Irv Gaiptman, Plainview, NY.

Dear Irv:

You were dear to let me know what The Station meant to your life. Here it is for all the others who haven’t as yet learned that lesson:

The Station

Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows we bring in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags waving. Once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a complete jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering—waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.

When we reach the station, that will be it, we cry. When I’m 18. When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz. When I put the last kid through college. When I have paid off the mortgage. When I get a promotion. When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after.

Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.

Relish the moment is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.

By Robert J. Hastings

 

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