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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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About my uncle Dalton . . .

This post is about my Uncle Dalton, one of my mother’s younger brothers. I never knew him, and I saw him for the first and last time at his wake. I can’t pinpoint the year he died, but my best guess is that it was around 1940. I know it was before 1942, the year my mother unwisely brought a stepfather into our family, and when I picture myself standing at my uncle’s coffin and listening to my mother explain how he died, I appear to be somewhere around the age of seven or perhaps eight years—hey, don’t laugh—I said it would be a best guess, right?

My Uncle Dalton died in the old Bryce Hospital, an institution for the insane located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. You can Google it here if you like—there’s lots of info on the Internet.

According to my mother and other family members, Dalton was the victim of a beating rendered by a fellow inmate, a not-so-gentle man that attacked Dalton with a metal bedpan and the beating proved to be fatal. I have a vivid memory of standing beside my mother and watching her lift the departed’s right arm and the hand dropping limply, indicating, as voiced by my mother, that the wrist was broken. I know now that the hand dropping, or drooping, was normal and did not indicate a break. Had the body been in the maximum stiffness of rigor mortis,  the hand would not have drooped when the arm was lifted.

In humans, rigor mortis commences  about 3 hours after death, reaches maximum stiffness after 12 hours, and gradually dissipates until approximately three days after death. I am reasonably sure that Uncle Dalton had been dead for at least three days before he lay in state at his wake prior to his burial. Therefore it was natural for the hand to drop, or droop, when the arm was lifted. If you like, you can click here to confirm my findings concerning rigor mortis.

My mother told me that Uncle Dalton was a perfectly normal young adult until he unwisely dived head-first from a tree limb into shallow water and lost consciousness when his head struck the bottom—her expression was, I believe, that his head stuck in the mud. He remained unconscious for several minutes and was finally revived, but was never quite the same after the accident, and some years later was committed to Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa, an institution for the mentally disturbed—insane, if you will.

My mother visited Dalton numerous times during his tenure at Bryce, and she had interesting stories to tell about those visits. She said that he loved chewing gum, and she always took him gum on her visits. Patients were not allowed to shave themselves, and Mama said that he invariably removed a stick of gum from its wrapper, then reconstructed the wrapper and  pretended to shave with it. She told me a joke that she claimed Dalton told her—I seriously doubt the origin of this joke, but I must admit that it’s funny!

The joke my Uncle Dalton supposedly told was of a mental patient that had been told that after thirty years in the asylum he could go home, so he was given a razor and told to shave. As he faced the mirror and began shaving, a nurse stopped in the hallway to congratulate him, and he turned away from the mirror for an instant, and while he was turned away the mirror slipped of its hanger. When he returned to face the mirror he exclaimed, “Damn, thirty years in this place and the day I get ready to leave I cut my head off!” If that story is true, I have some doubt as to the severity of Dalton’s insanity.

One more story about my insane Uncle Dalton, and I’ll leave this posting for posterity. An official from Bryce Hospital called Dalton’s family to tell them that Dalton had wandered away from the institution and was believed to be returning to his home. A couple of days later his mother noticed that a shotgun that normally hung over the fireplace was missing. A report was made to local law enforcement, and a search began for Dalton in that area. While the search was in full swing, Dalton appeared at the house with the shotgun and several squirrels he had bagged. He said that he left the hospital with the intention of going squirrel hunting and having his mother make squirrel stew for him. As the story goes, the local law officials arrived to take Dalton back to the hospital, but waited until he had finished a meal of squirrel stew.

Possible? Yes, but plausible? No, but it makes a good read, especially as told to me by my mother, and I would like to believe it. Well, why not? It’s all in the past, and whether true of false it’s an indication of the frailty and the goodness of human nature, and our acceptance of both attributes.

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

Postscript: I overlooked a memory of my uncle, something my mother told me and was confirmed by at least two of her sisters. One manifestation of his separation from reality was his insistence that the air was filled with clocks, all manners of timepieces—clocks large and clocks small, all showing the same time of day or night, and he couldn’t understand why others could not see them.

Was that proof of his mental imbalance? Perhaps, but according to my mother and my aunts he never carried a pocket watch and never wore a wristwatch, yet when someone asked, he could give them the correct time, at any moment of the day or night. Such a gift has its advantages—assuming that the clocks required neither winding nor batteries, the absence of maintenance costs and physical effort would mount up over a lifetime.

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

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2010 in Humor, hunting, insanity, law enforcement

 

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Don’t knit an Afghan . . .

In a previous posting I discussed the fact that I am unable to tune out conversations between others when I am within hearing distance, and I cited several examples of benefits gained because of my affliction—making new friends, learning things I didn’t know and passing time more pleasantly while in hospital waiting rooms. I’m using this posting to explain how I acquired a hand-knitted skull cap, a cap knitted exclusively for ladies that have lost their hair because of chemotherapy—oh, and at this juncture I must make it clear that I, the appointed and anointed King of Texas, am male through and through, neither female nor unisex—I’m not a woman, lady or otherwise, even if I am prone to don a bright red knitted cap occasionally.

Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas provides chemotherapy treatments for active duty and retired military people and family members. On a recent memorable morning I left the patient waiting area, took an elevator down six floors to the basement, negotiated seemingly endless winding corridors and finally arrived at the hospital cafeteria for breakfast. The cuisine there is only so-so in quality and presentation but the prices are—well, priceless, and they almost—not quite but almost—compensate for the lack of taste in the food. If you’re ever there for a meal, please don’t mention that I panned their kitchen or I may be banned from the facility.

In the hallway leading to the patient waiting area in the chemotherapy unit, there is a nice exhibition of knitted skull caps hanging on the wall. Dozens of beautiful caps of every design and color surround a mirror that interested ladies can use to see how the selected cap will look. The caps are made by a local ladies’ knitting club and are offered free to chemotherapy patients. I must hasten to say at the outset of this posting that I have the utmost respect for the group—I love ’em all!

When I returned from breakfast several women—knitters, if you will—were gathered at the wall display, rearranging the caps and adding new ones to the exhibition. As I neared the group I heard them discussing a planned flight to Las Vegas. I stopped and lounged against the opposite wall to watch them working on the display, and thus was privy to their conversation. I did not linger there with the intent to listen to their conversation, but because of my inability to tune out the speech of others I couldn’t help hearing them talking—it’s in my nature! For a detailed explanation of my affliction, click here to read, “It’s in my nature,” the forerunner to this posting.

One of the ladies said that she detested going through the inspection line in airport terminals. She felt that the workers were rude and made unreasonable demands such as ordering passengers to remove their shoes for inspection. She said that she was wearing sandals, flats I believe was the term she used, and she had to remove them and hand them over for inspection.

And in regard to that requirement, I can’t help but speculate that a goodly number of those employed at airport check-in lines are afflicted with foot or shoe fetishes, perhaps a combination of both. It could well be that the handling of women’s footwear and the sniff test the workers perform is not an attempt to detect the odor of explosives—it may be nothing more than the harmless actions of freaks seeking relief from the ho-hum mundane pressure of the job through personal satisfaction—so to speak.

When the speaker paused for breath I stepped forward and asked her if she planned to take her knitting on the flight, and she replied in the affirmative. I told her that it would not be allowed, that they would confiscate the items and hold them to be picked up on her return. She said, “Oh, I didn’t think about the needles—I suppose they could be used as weapons, maybe by threatening to stick a needle in a person’s eye.” I told her that was not the reason and she said, “Well, then why would they confiscate them?”

I told her—are y’all ready for this?

I told her they would not allow her to board the plane with her knitting paraphernalia because they feared that she might knit an Afghan. The group erupted in laughter and offered me one of the caps. I resisted but they insisted, and I am now the proud owner of a bright red cap with a tassel on the top—it fits well and I look great wearing it, and observers probably think that I am en route to the slopes at Aspen, or Vail perhaps.

I know, I know—it’s a dumb hokey joke with racial overtones, politically incorrect and certainly not original with me, but it served its purpose. The lady bemoaning the requirement to remove her shoes forgot all about the inconvenience and with a beautiful smile thanked me for making her day. As they made their rounds through the treatment rooms offering caps to the patients, they told the joke several times for the benefit of the patients, and each time laughter resounded in the rooms and into the hallway. My inadvertent eves-dropping on their conversation thus spread and helped brighten the day for more people, and as Martha Stewart would undoubtedly say, “That’s a good thing!”

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

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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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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It’s in my nature . . .

I have a ridiculous affliction, one that in my memory has always existed. I do not have the ability to tune out, to avoid or ignore activities and conversations that are within my sight and hearing. I am acutely aware of such, whether I am reading, talking to others or trying to snooze—I am constantly and vividly aware of the conversations and activities of other people’s speech and actions.

As an example, we sometimes dine at one of the local Luby’s cafeterias—not as often as in the past because Luby’s has made changes to their operation without my input, and dining with them is not as pleasant as before and is considerably more costly. While dining there I am always near other diners, sometimes almost surrounded by other diners, and I inadvertently listen in on several discussions simultaneously, but not through choice—I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

And now to the crux of this posting:

For a considerable number of years I have spent considerable time in waiting rooms of chemotherapy units and kidney dialysis units, and as a result of my affliction I have accumulated enough thoughts to write several books, and made enough friends to populate a small town. A few examples follow:

Two male patients were waiting to be seen by their doctors, and while they waited they discussed their medical problems and this is what I heard one man say: “We can’t last forever, even though we were made by a good person.” Brief, cogent and to the point—with one fell swoop he admitted his own mortality and acknowledged his belief in the deity.

I listened in on a conversation between two elderly ladies that were waiting for their chemotherapy treatments. One said that she had been in the United States for fifty years, that she was now a citizen, but had not been able to dump her British accent. I interjected myself into the conversation—interrupted, if you will—and reminded her of what President George W. Bush said in reply to a reporter’s question concerning the president’s pending visit to England to meet the queen. The reporter asked him what he felt would be his greatest challenge on the visit. The president said something to the effect that, “Well, they speak English over there so I may have some problems with the language.”

The lady from Great Britain was still laughing when she left for her treatment, laughter shared by everyone present, presumably regardless of political affiliation. Again brief, cogent and to the point. The president in one fell swoop answered the question and acknowledged that he was well aware of being a target of derision for his unique use of the English language, and that he was alright with that.

As an aside, I believe that President George W. Bush followed a path laid down by my mother for me long ago. She always said that I shouldn’t be bothered when others talked about me, because when they were talking about me they were letting everyone else rest—brief, cogent and to the point. I have a drawer full of Momisms that I plan to dump on Word Press in the near future. Stay tuned!

I have often been charged with being too long-winded in my postings, to which I delightedly plead guilty. However, in the interests of brevity I’ll close this for now, with the admonition that if you and I are anywhere near each other and you do not want me to hear your conversation, don’t bother to whisper because I’ll still hear you. You’ll need to put some distance between us to be safe!

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

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Ode to a cheesecake . . .

Below is a recent post from my daughter’s blog at cindydyer.wordpress.com. The posting features a poem,  An apology to the wood anemone. Her poem pays tribute to a beautiful flower, one she thought was long dead but survived last winter’s record snowfalls in Alexandria, Virginia. Not only did it survive—it appears to have thrived following its burial under snow throughout the fierce snowstorms last winter.

This is her tribute to the wood anemone:

An apology to the wood anemone

Lovely eight petal wood anemone
please accept my apology
More plants, I surely did not need any
but your price was reduced to a hundred pennies
Relegated to your preferred shady spot
remembering to plant you, I most certainly did not
Lost in the shuffle of spring and summer
as the King of Texas says, “what a bummer!”
you braved well over two feet of snow
yet still come spring, you put on a show
Please accept my apology
lovely eight petal wood anemone

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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Her posting continues:

I must preface my father’s poem by explaining why he felt the urge to wax so eloquently about a cheesecake. In February we hosted a very scaled back Chocoholic Party for friends—aptly renamed the “Cabin Fever with Chocolate Party.” It was scaled back from our annual soiree because of the unprecedented piles of snow in our area, obstructions that resulted in limited parking for guests from outside the neighborhood—our annual party usually brings in 35 or more chocoholics, so ample parking is necessary! This year, our guests needed to be able to walk to our house through some 30 inches of snow!  As for the cheesecake, earlier in the week we bought a huge one from Costco during our rounds to gather food for this semi-potluck party. I was sitting at the computer working a few days before the party when Michael came downstairs—a brown wrapped package in one hand and a shovel in the other—and unlocked the patio door. I watched him, wondering if he was going to dig a path through the almost three feet of snow to the back gate (and why?). He dug a hole into the snow bank just outside the door and buried the package. I then asked, “What in the world did you just bury?” “Cheesecake!” he exclaimed. “There wasn’t any room for it in the refrigerator and since the party is just two days away, I figured it would keep.” And it kept—such a resourceful man—I think I’ll keep him.

My poem, An apology to the wood anemone, inspired my father to write his own poem, a work related to my Apology. Bravo, bravo, King of Texas! His comments to my original posting include his wonderfully crafted poem, Ode to a cheesecake.

Here are my comments to my daughter’s posting of her poem:

In advance of posting this comment, I humbly offer my abject apologies to the preacher John Donne, to the poet Joyce Kilmer and to the author of An apology to the wood anemone . . . It’s not my fault—it’s in my nature—it’s something I cannot control. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maxima.

Ode to a cheesecake

Breathes there one with soul so dead
That never to one’s self hath said
Methinks that I shall never see
A word so lovely as anemone.

Offed from my tongue it rolls
Sadly as the bell that tolls
Nor for thee and nor for me
Nor for the lovely anemone.

But for the cheesecake ‘neath its bower
Nor ‘neath trees nor plants nor showers
Nay, ‘neath snowstorms full of power
Lying ‘neath the snow for hours
In wait for the chocolate party
To be eaten by guests so hearty.

But wait, what do I see
Beside the cheesecake ‘neath the snow
The anemone arises ready to go
With the cheesecake to the table
Petals eight to be divided
Among the diners so excited
A ‘nemone to see.

They smell the petals
They hear the bell
They’ll come to know
As time will tell
Whether snow and cheesecake
Sounds their knell
Or leaves them alive
And well.

H.M. Dyer (1932-     )—All rights reserved.

I neglected to give credit to Sir Walter Scott for his poem ‘The lay of the last minstrel’ in my ‘Ode to a cheesecake’—credit is now given. I also neglected to say that I loved your poem,  An apology to the wood anemone. It is well crafted and exceptionally well done!

Your anemone arising from the snow in the spring is reminiscent of Thoreau’s “Walden,” in which he tells of a golden bug that in the spring gnawed its way out of a table after being entombed in the wood for many years.

_____________________________________________

See more of my father’s pondering, hypothesizing and philosophizing, musings, comments, lectures, diatribes, royal reflections and revelations, essays, memoirs, biographies and autobiographies, tall tales, fables, childhood memories, yarns, jokes, poems, political and social commentary, and my favorite of his topics—excellent grammatical lessons—on his website, thekingoftexas.wordpress.com.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2010 in Books, Humor, poetry, Writing

 

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