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James R. Stout


Collective Cataracts

            A small town in far west Texas was doing well. It was the 1950’s and the area was in the middle of an oil boom. Before long a few hearty souls moved in and started some businesses. There was a small bank, a pharmacy, a general store, a feed store for the cattlemen of the area, two gas stations, a clothing store aimed at supplying the men who either worked cattle or on the oil rigs with the appropriate clothing for their given occupations, a roadside café, and a hardware store. The man who opened the hardware store was in his early 30’s with a wife and three children. They moved to this little town from Ft. Worth in hopes of a better life than what they had in the bigger city. The store itself wasn’t huge, but it was of a decent size. He not only stocked the typical items found in a hardware store, but he also had auto supplies for the big brands of the day. This meant that local residents wouldn’t have to drive a hundred or more miles to get parts for their cars and trucks. The oil boom provided a good living for this man for a dozen years, but after the area drilling was completed the need for full-time employees in the oil fields ended. The man noticed the steady decline in the volume of business that he was receiving. By the mid-60’s the writing was on the wall. Some of the businesses were closing up. The bank closed, one of the gas stations closed, and the pharmacy closed within the same year. Within two years the only businesses still open were this man’s hardware store, the roadside café, and the general store. The town was quickly beginning to look like a ghost town. By 1967 the owner of the general store closed shop and in early 1968 the café closed down.

            One hot and windy day in the summer of 1968 the man sat at his kitchen table and talked with his wife about their situation. The truth was he no longer had enough business to support his family. With much prayer and discussion, the couple decided that they too would have to close up their store and try again in a bigger city. The physical building was not saleable and there was nothing to do but pack his stock and abandon the building. The little town was indeed a ghost town. The man moved his family to San Angelo, Texas and opened a hardware and auto parts store there. It was the end of a dream for the man and his family.

            Meanwhile, the little town received yet another major blow, the death blow, when the Texas Highway Department chose to build a highway that completely bypassed the little town. The existing highway was decommissioned and essentially abandoned by the State in 1971. There was no reason to go to the little town anymore. No businesses were open and there was no need for the county roads to be maintained.

            In some parts of West Texas there are some pretty strong windstorms. There have been reports and claims that a windstorm was so strong and blew the sand and dirt of West Texas so hard that it took the paint off of cars. The old hardware store had been the very picture of a well-maintained business during it’s prime, but time and elements can take their toll. The front of the store had a large plate glass window. When it was built there were items such as a bicycle, large tools, and neatly stacked cans of oil displayed in the storefront window. The store was empty and abandoned by 1970. One of the things the owner had loved to do was stand inside his store and look out the large plate glass window at the people, cars, and workers going about their busy lives. He made it a habit of cleaning that window, inside and out, every week. The area residents had become accustomed to seeing him on a tall step ladder outside scrubbing the window clean. He had the cleanest window in town. But all of that ended when he had to close up shop and move away. Windstorms, an occasional spattering of rain, bugs, and windblown debris started to work on that window.

            Years passed. The man was retired, and his wife had gone to be with the Lord. His children all had children of their own and all lived far away from San Angelo, Texas. It was 2020 and he was 93 years-old. One of his sons came to visit and was surprised when his Dad asked him for a big favor. He asked his son if he would drive him down to the old ghost town and let him see it one more time. The son was glad to do this for his aged father.

            On a Saturday morning, father and son left early to drive down to the ghost town. The man had to carry his walker with him just in case, but he hoped that he would only need his cane. It was a long drive to the little town, but it was a beautiful day outside. They located the old highway and had to go slowly because it had not been maintained for decades. As they approached the little town, they saw that one of the gas stations had been broken into at some point and even the old pumps were missing. The roadside café had collapsed from either age or perhaps a strong windstorm. The windows in the bank were all broken. What vegetation grew in the arid climate had taken over the old general store. It saddened the man to see the condition of the little town. Finally, they drove up to the old hardware store. The first thing the man noticed and remarked about was the front window.

            “It’s like it developed cataracts or something.” The old man said.

            They looked upon the window and the son remembered helping his dad stack oil cans there. It saddened him to see what had become of the building where he spent so much time as a young child. The window wasn’t broken, but it was literally caked in dirt and grime. Splattered bug remains were mixed with the dirt and accumulation of scratches from pebbles and other windblown items. They got out of the car and the old man reached inside his pocket and withdrew a key. He also had asked his son to bring along a can of WD-40 because he suspected what they would find. A couple of squirts of the lubricant and a twist of the key allowed them to open the front door. All of the fixtures were coated in dirt and dust. Lightbulbs no longer legal to buy were still in the overhead lights. They likely would have worked if there had been electricity. The floor was a mess and they left footprints with every step that they took. There was a large pack rat nest in one corner. The old man remembered lifting his youngest child up onto his shoulders and letting her ride around the store on them. He remembered stealing a kiss or two from his wife behind the main counter of the store. As they prepared to leave the old man stood looking out the front window. He could barely see anything through the window because it was so dirty. He leaned on his cane and thought about life. Yes, time had taken its toll on the building. It wasn’t even close to the same as it had been 60 years before. But then, neither was he. He thought about how in a way the story of his little store was the same as the story of America in those 6 decades. Values that had once been precious to Americans had been abandoned like the store. People who looked out their windows in 2020 couldn’t see clearly as though they were looking through a cataract laden vision. The society had been assaulted with windstorms of lies, deceit, and carefully crafted falsehoods and could no longer recognize right from wrong.

            The old man and his son got back in the car and drove back home. It had been a long and tiring day, so the old man was ready for bed when they got home. As he laid in bed before falling asleep, he prayed to God and asked that a change in the hearts of Americans could be given. He prayed for his children and grandchildren and the future that they would be subjected to. Finally, he fell asleep. He dreamed that he was at a funeral and overheard some people talking.

            One man said, “Well, he was old, and his time had come.”

            Another man said, “Yeah, and let’s be honest. He wasn’t useful to society anymore. He was a drain on our resources.”

            A woman said, “He was a nice enough guy, but he was just so out of touch with reality. He believed in God, you didn’t want to talk politics with him because he was so right-wing conservative, and he was at times a bigot given he believed the Bible.”

            The old man was disturbed by this dream, but then he awoke in Heaven.

Clint Was Right

            Clint Eastwood once said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” I agree with that 100%. I know mine. The truth is our limitations change over time given our experiences and the aging process. I once could work on my car doing maintenance and repairs. That was when shade tree mechanics dotted the landscape of any given neighborhood. I changed the oil, replaced broken parts such as a generator, alternator, solenoid, water pump, master brake cylinder, radiator, and other items on car models from 1962-1978. After that, cars got too complicated for me. And, to be honest, I never liked doing the repairs. I did them because I couldn’t afford to pay for someone to do them. You just haven’t felt pain like the kind of pain that comes with slipping a slotted screwdriver and digging a furrow in your other hand while working outside in 13-degree weather.

            I have more limitations today than ever before because of the aging process. Climbing on a ladder is out of the question. Could I do it? Maybe. But the chances are I would lose my balance and perhaps break something in a fall. So, I don’t climb ladders anymore. Even my musical abilities have suffered because of arthritis. I’m not as fast as I used to be. In short, I know my limitations. Let me tell you about a time when I didn’t know my limitations and it caused me to be quite embarrassed. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I wasn’t laughing much.

            I was 21-years-old and being trained as a locksmith. It was a trade that I thought could be a possible fallback occupation if I didn’t become rich and famous as a singer-songwriter. As it turns out, neither one of those occupations would sustain me. I was sent out to change a lock on a restroom door of a gas station that had been damaged by someone kicking the door open. The dispatcher figured I could change a lock out. If only it had been so simple. The gas station was in the heart of an area in Houston called “Montrose”. It was even then known for its “colorful” reputation. The fact is it was an area inhabited by a great many homosexuals during a time when they were not as accepted as they are today. It was also known for having residents that were in all manor of businesses. There were the record stores and music stores and so forth, but there were also some rather “different” kinds of stores. Stores that sold clothing (that word is used loosely) for the boudoir, clothing for cross-dressing individuals, and there were restaurants with French cuisine that were located in what had once been church buildings. Now you know the area that I was sent to. The next thing you need to know is that it was August and that day it was over 100 degrees. Finally, the gas station restroom was about as clean as you might expect.

            It appeared to be an easy job when I first looked at the lock. I removed the remains of the broken lock and then I tried to install a new one. The hollow metal door was beat up around where the lock was supposed to go, and it meant that I had to do some repairs to the door and the door jamb. I had the lock off and I was hammering away at the door with a tool designed for straightening metal. Within 15 minutes I was soaked with sweat. There was no ventilation in the restroom, but I had the door propped open with one of my feet. I gave a good whack to the door and the tool I was using slipped out of my hand and fell inside the restroom. My natural reaction was to get the tool. Except that when I did the door swung closed. My initial thought was that was no problem because there was no lock in the door. I should have been able to just pull on the door and it would open. But there was one teeny weeny little problem. The door jamb was messed up and when the door closed it couldn’t be reopened by just pulling on the door with my hands. A part of the door jamb was keeping the door from opening inward. Guess where my toolbox was? OUTSIDE the restroom! All I had was that little flat tool and my hammer. I tried and I tried to get that door open, but it wouldn’t budge. I was quickly becoming a drowned rat in that restroom. I started worrying about someone stealing my toolbox while I was stuck inside the restroom. I worried about my dispatcher wondering what I was doing and why I hadn’t finished that simple job yet. I tried to cool off by turning on the water in the sink. Except no water came out.

            There was a parking lot next to where I was stuck. I got down on my knees and peaked through the opening in the door where the lock was to go. I waited for someone to walk by. The first person was a man in a business suit. I called out to him from that opening and he just gave me a look like, “Montrose is one weird place.” He quickly walked away. A woman walked by and I tried to get her attention and she just looked at the restroom door and said, “Pervert”. I was getting dehydrated and I was getting a tad on the scared side. Finally, a man came up to use the restroom and I said, “I’m a locksmith and I’m locked inside here. Can you go get the manager?” The guy gave me a look and then burst into laughter. However, to my great relief he did go get the manager. When the manager, our customer, came back to the restroom I said, “Hi! I’m the locksmith and I’m kind of locked inside here. Can you please count to three and then give the door a good swift kick for me?” I quickly stood back from the door and the manager kicked it open. I jammed a big screwdriver under the door to ensure that it would not close again. I must have looked like something from a horror movie because the manager gave me a look that was somewhere between “What on Earth?” and “It’s the creature from the black lagoon.” The first thing I wanted was a cold drink of water. But they didn’t sell water in bottles then and this was an old gas station that didn’t even have a soda machine. I noticed a chicken place across the street and stumble over to it just to order a Coke. But they were out of everything except for Big Red Strawberry soda. I ordered one and gulped that puppy down as fast as I could. I didn’t care what flavor it was by then. Cold and wet was just fine.

            Well, I went back to the restroom at the gas station and within 30 minutes I had the door and door jamb beaten into submission. I installed the new lock, wrote out the service bill, and got in my van which thankfully had air conditioning. Did I learn anything that day? Yes indeed. I never again worked on a door without first making sure it couldn’t close by itself on me. But the truth is I was not trained enough to do that job at that time. I was limited in my knowledge. Fortunately, I got through the ordeal and picked-up some experience along the way.

            About 18 months ago I was on a date with a lady who wanted to go to a particular restaurant in the Montrose area. It had been quite awhile since I had been in that part of Houston. As we were driving to the restaurant, I realized we were going to pass by the location of that old gas station. Of course, that station has been long gone. It’s one of those convenience store/gas station combo places. As I drove by, I thought of that day so long ago. The restrooms were inside and air conditioned and probably didn’t even have a lock. They probably sell every brand of bottled water and soft drinks around. Things change and so have I. Whenever I consider doing something now, I think about it before I do it. I want to make sure that I can do the job. Limitations are just a part of life and Clint was right. You got to know your limitations.

Go With Your Gut

            In 1967 my sister entered a contest and won a week’s stay at a new resort in Arkansas. She was underage, so my parents had to make the arrangements. In the first week of August we all piled into the car and went on our first vacation in 5 years. At the time, my mother was 37, Dad was 44, my sister Barbara was 17, my sister Debbie was 15, and I was a month away from turning 12. I remember the thrill of going into another state. Other than a short trip to Louisiana when I was an infant, I had not been out of Texas. We stopped and ate at a restaurant in Texarkana and the state line was inside the store. I put one foot in Texas and the other in Arkansas just for grins.

            Mom made sure that the motel that we stayed in on the way had a swimming pool. That was just fine by me! There were some pretty funny and fun moments on that trip. I had recently learned that you could make a certain motion to truckers and they would blast their airhorn. This became a source of great embarrassment to Barbara. At one point, she slid down in the back seat and hid her face while saying, “I’m so embarrassed!”. I loved it. As we drove on Highway 7 through the mountains, we kept seeing signs for apple cider. Barbara thought it would have liquor in it, but it was just good ole apple cider without any fermentation. We also saw signs advertising antiques. Dad jokingly started calling them “anty-ques”. We got to the resort late in the day on Sunday and checked in. We would be staying for 3 nights and 4 days. Mom and Dad would have to go to some meetings that were basically sales pitches, but we three kids were left to our own devices. We stayed in a mobile home on the property and the walk to the recreation center was about a mile or so.

            Some random memories of that week include sitting in the resort restaurant and putting a quarter or two into those jukeboxes that were at each table. I definitely remember paying to hear “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees, “A Little Bit of Soul” by The Music Explosion, and “Light My Fire” by The Doors. There was a putt-putt golf course, a huge swimming pool, a game room with a pool table and some pinball games, and an area for horseshoes, volleyball, and other outdoor games. One night Barbara and Debbie got to go to a teen dance at the recreation center. I wasn’t a teen yet, but I sat outside and listened to the band doing Top 40 songs of the day.

            The days were not terribly hot, but they were certainly warm enough to go swimming. One day my parents were attending a sales pitch meeting and I was given permission to walk down to the pool and swim. I would have to walk back to the mobile home though. I should remind you again that this was 1967. Things were very different then than they are today. We didn’t worry about things that we have to worry about nowadays. That said, I should say that my parents raised us to have common sense. I had gone swimming for about an hour and decided I would go back to the mobile home to eat a snack. Mom had bought some groceries so that we didn’t have to eat at restaurants for all our meals.

            I grabbed my towel and put on my flip-flops (gravel roads made going barefoot not the smart thing to do) and headed for the mobile home. There was a main road through the facility with several roads with mobile homes on them that crossed the main road. I had gotten about ¼ of a mile down the road when one of the salesmen for the facility pulled up in his car with the window down and offered me a ride to the mobile home. There was something about the way that he looked at me that made me feel uneasy. I had no idea why at the time but getting in that car with him just didn’t sound like a good idea. I politely declined and he drove slowly as I walked and after about a minute or so he sped up and drove away. I never told my parents about the whole thing. I wouldn’t have known what to tell them. I didn’t know a thing about sex much less that there were men who I would later learn were pedophiles. I just knew that something about the guy was off.

            Decades later I think back on that day and I can’t help but wondering if I avoided something that could have totally messed-up my young life. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to believe anything was actually off with that guy that day, but there’s a part of me that knows deep down inside that I dodged a bad situation that day. That event was one of first events in my life that I learned to go with my gut. I still go with my gut today. Some would call it discernment. I think that is apropos. I didn’t know why I felt like I did, but I listened to my gut. I realize that there are some people who just don’t have the ability to discern when something isn’t quite right. My Dad used to have a saying that went, “It doesn’t pass the smell test.” I believe that we have the ability to develop a “smell test” and to “go with our gut”. In today’s world, I suggest we teach our children and grandchildren how to do that. You don’t have to go into gory details about things, but you need to show them how to think and to discern. Our children are so very precious and such incredible gifts from God. I believe that it is our duty and our commission to protect their young lives from an ever-sickening society. Let’s all do our part and protect the children from the predators that have no other agenda than to harm them.

Mr. Cool with drooping sock, Debbie and Barbara

 

Watch The Rose

            I wrote my first song when I was 14-years-old. It was not my best work, but it was a start. I wrote that song, “Lock and Key” in the summer of 1970. In the nearly 50 years since then I have written approximately 600 songs. I would be disingenuous if I didn’t admit that a great many of the songs written in the first 3 years were not particularly good. In fact, some of them were quite bad. However, I look back on a lot of those songs and I realize that it was a time of learning how to write and a time of discovering my “voice”. In some cases, I pilfered parts of those songs and incorporated them into much better and worthy songs. I’ve heard interviews with some of the best songwriters ever and they have given various explanations as to how they came to write a song. For me, there have basically been three ways that I have written a song. First, the melody and the musical part of a song came. Sometimes I would write the words as the song came, but for the most part the music came first, and the lyrics followed. The second way that a song has come to me is from writing a poem or lyric and then finding a melody that fit the lyrics. The second method has been far less prevalent in my writing. However, some of my best songs came about this way. Finally, I have written a few songs that were “by demand”. Well, more like “by my own demand”. They were written for or about someone or some subject that was important to me at the time. For instance, I have written three different wedding songs. One for each of my children and one for my oldest sister.

            Am I boring you yet? I hope not because I’m about to get to the point of this blog entry. One the best songs that I have written started life as a poem. I’d like to share the poem with you in just a moment. I really do need to get this one recorded properly. I have a demo recorded of it that goes back to 1980. The demo is just that. It’s not a finished product by any stretch. The poem speaks for itself.

Watch The Rose

One man lives, another man dies.

One wife weeps, another wife sighs.

One more grave to fill.

And those who remain, lie still.

 

One child hugs her Daddy home.

Another child cries, all alone.

One man sits and wonders why.

It was his friend that had to die.

 

No war is won, we all lose.

And those who die, do not choose.

Yet some who live, watch the rose.

For though it’s picked, it still grows.

 

            I wrote the poem on April 28, 1980. After reading the poem again 40 years later, it is still relevant. Although I wrote the poem about the effects on people after the loss of a loved one in a war, the same feelings can be felt by anyone after losing a loved one. This could be a police officer, a fireman, or just a best friend who might have been a plumber, electrician, lawyer, doctor, mechanic, grocery clerk or insurance salesman that died. He was loved and his loss is felt deeply by those who loved him. In the poem I compare the absolutely normal feelings of the different people affected by the loss. I immersed myself in those feelings at the time. A soldier died and his friend sits on a bunk in a tent wondering why it was his friend that died instead of himself. There was a wife who is left weeping at the news of her husband’s death while the wife of his friend sighs in relief that it wasn’t her husband that died. At a later date, there’s a child that runs to her Daddy and hugs him as he comes home from the war while the child of the deceased is left crying, perhaps sitting on the floor of her room with her knees drawn up to her chest and she is feeling a loss too profound to understand. Finally, it occurred to me that no war is won. The truth is we all lose. There’s a huge cemetery in Normandy that is the final resting place of American soldiers who died in that battle. While we owe them a debt that cannot be repaid and they were the very definition of heroes, none of them wanted to die. None of them chose to be in their grave. They did make a choice to answer the call of service and it did lead them to an early grave, but I would venture to say that most of those young men went into battle hoping that they would live through it. As I wrote the poem, I did not wish for it to be a totally negative thing. Even in death we can find hope. For those who have accepted Jesus as their savior, death on Earth is just the beginning.

            I once heard the wife of a man who died say something at his funeral that has stayed with me through the years. Someone made the statement that they just didn’t understand why God allowed such a good man to die so young. This grieving wife simply looked at the other person and said, “Sometimes God picks the sweetest rose for Himself.” She didn’t mean it as a negative or with any kind of bitterness. She meant it with love. She realized that God is in control and His love would sustain her. She lived another 37 years and then joined her husband in Heaven. Sorry if I got a little serious with this one, but it was on my heart. Thanks for reading and stay in touch dear friends.

Piggy

            When I was about 8-years-old I was given a glass piggy bank. I’ve attached pictures below of a bank like the one that I had. These little banks were very common during that time. Mine had a tint to it that was somewhere between pink and amber. You were able to see your saved pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters through the translucent glass. The only hole in the glass pig was on the top and it was elongated to allow coins to be easily dropped into the bank. There was no hole to empty the bank. That said, there were times when I would shake the piggy upside down and a few coins would find their way out of the bank and into my eager hand. But it was a tedious affair and not something you would want to do if in a hurry.

            There are certain things that I remember about that bank and the usage of it. First, I remember the sound of the initial coins being dropped into the bank and pinging on the glass bottom. It was somewhat loud. But as the bank began to fill up with coins, the sound became a muted metallic slap as the new coin dropped in and would strike the existing pile of coins within the bank. Secondly, I remember all the things that I had planned for the eventually filled bank. Over the years I would sometimes take a slice of masking tape, marked with the item wished for, and put it on the bank. The masking tape strip would almost always give way to new wishes. I believe one of my first goals for the money was to buy a bike. That became unnecessary when I was given a bike for my 10th birthday. Thirdly, over time I realized that pennies and nickels pretty much just took up space. So, I started only putting dimes and quarters into the bank. My aim was to grow the value of the ever-hungry Piggy.

            As I grew older and became a teenager my desires were for more substantial “things”. An electric guitar and amplifier and a car became top priorities. But let’s face it, the little piggy bank just wasn’t up to the task of accumulating enough coins to pay for those more expensive items. At first, I added more banks to my dresser top. You might say that I diversified my wealth. When we would go on a camping trip or vacation I also came home with a new kind of bank. These were souvenirs and were usually made of pine or cedar and they had something that Piggy didn’t have. An extra hole for the money to be extracted from. While convenient, this added extra was also a deterrent to saving more money. When a new record came out, then some of those coins were just too easy to get at and spend. The Beatles and a whole host of other artists became rich at the expense of my banking system. I still have a couple of these additional banks. However, Piggy is only a distant memory. I Miss Piggy. I would love to have Piggy sitting in the corner curio cabinet as a visible memory of times gone by. Alas, that cannot be.

            The day came on January 13, 1973 when Piggy died a horrible death. But don’t cry to hard for Piggy. He died for a worthy cause. A very worthy cause. It was a Saturday and that night was to be a special night in my young life. I had recently started “going steady” with my first serious girlfriend. As it turns out, she was involved in an organization via school known as FHA – Future Homemakers of America. They were having their annual FHA formal that night. It was to be a double date. Me and my girl along with her good friend and boyfriend. I won’t say the name, but the friend of my girlfriend has become quite famous today. She is a wonderful speaker and author of many books. But that night she was just a shy 16-year-old girl who was waiting to see how life unfolded just like the rest of us. The evening began with the girls cooking us a big dinner. This was to show off some of what they learned in FHA. We would then drive over to the Memorial Country Club for the formal dance. Here’s where Piggy’s demise is made clear.

            My only real job that evening was to provide the transportation and to give my girlfriend a corsage. I had gone down to Drago’s Florist near my house earlier that week and ordered the corsage. No simple carnation or rose would do so far as I was concerned. I ordered an orchid corsage. I was told later by my girlfriend that her mother was taken aback when they went into the other room for the corsage to be pinned onto the formal. Why? Because she hadn’t received an orchid until after she was married! It was apparently a big deal to her. Come to think of it, I wonder if that corsage is pressed between the pages of some keepsake book today. Well, in 1973 dollars that corsage cost $14. That would be about $70 today. A princely sum for a 17-year-old boy to come up with. I was determined to pay for it myself with no help from my parents. Piggy died paying for that corsage. I had to break Piggy into pieces to get all those coins out. It was enough money to pay for the corsage, gas for the car, and some money left over. It was all worth Piggy’s sacrifice.

            As I have been writing this a few things occurred to me. First, I had to laugh at my outfit that night. I wore white patent leather shoes and a white leather belt. The belt was about 2 inches wide as was the style of the day. Those shoes though. Pat Boone would have been proud. But the truth is, they were the only dress shoes that I owned. They were bought for me a few months before when I was asked to sing at a wedding. The white leather was needed to match the outfits of the groomsmen. There was also a typical early 70’s far too wide of a white tie to match. I didn’t own a suit per se. I wore stylish clothes, but suits were not my thing. But I did wear a blue sport coat along with a pair of polyester pants. They could have been Johnny Carson knock-offs. My hair was almost to my shoulders by then, but clean and blown dry. Second, I remember very vividly slow-dancing to the live band doing an excellent job on Chicago’s “Colour My World”. Now, for the more important observations regarding that piggy bank.

            That piggy bank could in some ways be a metaphor for life. It was once new. The first coins put into it made a happy pinging sound and then later would make a contented full sound. As time went by, I learned to fill the bank with more valuable coins. As I have grown older, and I hope the same is true for you, I have learned to fill my life with more valuable insights and experiences. I’ve learned to let the pennies and nickels pass through and to hold onto the dimes and quarters of life. Heck, there’s even been a few half dollars and silver dollars added along the way. I have also learned that sometimes we get broken in order to fulfill an important need. The good news is we don’t have to stay broken like Piggy did. We can reassemble, via our own perseverance and via God’s will, and are often much better afterwards. Perhaps one of the greatest things that we can accumulate in ourselves over time is wisdom. As George Harrison sang in The Beatles classic song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “With every mistake we must surely be learning.” I’d like to believe that I have learned from my mistakes along the way.

            There are worse things that we can be compared to than a glass piggy bank. I think you can agree with me on that. I know that along the way there have been some people who just didn’t like me, and they would compare me to some rather crude things in life. So, if you are compared to a glass piggy bank, then don’t be insulted. It’s a compliment. Of course, you will need to be sure and not let yourself become a pile of broken glass. You can be put back together with the right attitude. Here’s an idea. Go buy yourself a glass piggy bank and keep it around as visual inspiration. Someone worked hard to make that bank just as God, you, and all of the people in your life have worked hard to make you. Drop a quarter in the bank from time to time as you learn something new and worthwhile that adds to your life.

 

The Smoking Pregnant Wife and The Fix

            I was a long way from home. No, not like hundreds of miles, but my work had carried me about 60 miles away that day. It was late July in 1985. We didn’t have cell phones then. I carried a couple of dollars in quarters with me all the time. There used to be these things called “pay phones”. Some of them were housed in little glass and metal booths that were rarely in good condition. Foul odors, non-working lights, and just big enough to feel claustrophobic despite being able to see through the scratched-up glass. Sometimes there would be a “bank” of pay phones and it was a crap shoot as to which ones might work. That said, I did carry a beeper. Beepers worked pretty well, but it all depended on how sophisticated it was. Some looked like a Three Musketeers Bar and simply went off when someone called you. Those were used by mostly employees who were alerted to call in to the office for some reason or other. There were more expensive models that would display the phone number of who was calling you. Oh, I dreamed of having one of those, but the company saw no reason for it.

            My wife was 9 months pregnant at the time. So, it was pretty important for me to available. We worked out a way to know it was her calling me. If the beeper went off three times in rapid succession (she had to call the number three times), then I knew to call her and not the office. There were times when the beeper would go off and it was not exactly easy to find a pay phone. It seemed like I would be going up the ship channel bridge when the beeper would go off or some such inconvenient place. It wasn’t as though I could just pull off the freeway. Sometimes I would be in a very bad part of town. The kind of area that driving through it was one thing but stopping and getting out of your vehicle was quite another. On this particular day I got three rapid beeps while I was in Texas City. Texas City is about 60 miles from where we lived in Hockley, Texas. As I’m searching for a convenience store with some pay phones I’m thinking, “What am I going to do if she is in labor?” Her due date wasn’t for another 2 weeks, but you never know.

            I got to a phone and called home. I felt just like E.T. She answered immediately and from the tone in her voice I knew something was terribly wrong. She needed a good cry before she could explain. Did I mention it was late July? Yea, it was a typical very hot and very humid day for the Houston area. After getting her calmed down with many pledges such as “Baby, it’s gonna be alright” or “Darlin, whatever it is I’ll fix it.”, she was ready to communicate. Now, this was long before I learned that I might be able to solve a problem, but I couldn’t fix anything. Men want to fix things for their woman, but most of the time the woman just wants to talk about it. Fortunately, this time there was something that actually needed fixing. She told me that she was in our son’s room straightening it up when she saw smoke through the open blinds of the window. Now I confess, that got my attention. She said that she looked outside and smoke was coming from the A/C unit. I calmly (that’s the way I remember it) asked if she had turned the A/C off and she said she did. Thank goodness for that. Let me remind you of some things. It was late July and very hot. My wife was 9 months pregnant. I was 60 miles from home. Oh, and one itsy bitsy little factoid. We didn’t have enough money to call an A/C repair place which meant I needed to get home and see if I could fix the problem.

            I called in to work and told them the situation and that I needed to go home. Thankfully, they understood. It was about 10 o’clock in the morning when I got her call. I knew it was going to be an interesting day. I got in my car and headed for home. I pulled into the driveway about 11:45. My wife looked like a drowned rat, but it is only because she is my ex-wife that I can even say that now. I opened the window in that room and told her to listen for me to tell her to turn on the A/C unit once I got outside. I went out back and told her to turn it on. Smoke started to come out of the air compressor motor. I told her to turn it off. I knew what I needed, but I also knew that it was going to mean a 30-mile drive to the nearest place that had them in stock. So, round trip it was going to be about an hour and a half plus the time for me to replace the motor.

            I explained all of this to my wife. She cried and said with trembling voice, “What are we going to do?”

            I told her that I would go get the motor and come back and hope that it was the only thing wrong. But she couldn’t very well sit in that house while I did all of that. I called my sister. She lived about 8 miles from us and wasn’t working at the time given she was a teacher. I explained the problem and asked if I could bring my wife over to stay at their house. My sister was happy to oblige. Yes, it added some drive time to the whole thing, but so be it.

            Well, first I took out the old motor. Not a hard thing to figure out. I wanted to have it with me to make sure that I got the right replacement. I dropped off my wife at my sister’s and drove back into Houston to the parts place. I got the new motor and some good news too. They had a way of testing the old motor and said that some bearings had burned out. I knew I had the right part and that there shouldn’t be anything else to replace. I drove back home and by about 4 o’clock had the new motor in and the A/C purring like a kitten. The house was cooling down when I left to go to my sister’s house. Oh, and by that time I that looked like a drowned rat. We must have inspired the Garth Brook’s song, “Two of Kind, Working On A Full House”.

            When I got there and went inside my wife was sitting in a big recliner and with the help of my sister got out of the chair. She looked at me and then she started to cry again. But these tears were happy tears. I was her hero. It wasn’t a position that I held later in our marriage, but at the time it made me feel like a hero and that’s a good feeling.

            My daughter is 6 months pregnant with her fourth child as I write this. I had the opportunity to observe them together this past Saturday. First, let me say that I am not putting in a dig on my ex-wife, but the truth is my daughter is literally the best mother I’ve ever known. She is a true Wonder Woman. Second, her husband is a fantastic Dad and he intuitively fixes things to make life better for my daughter and grandkids. There is one very important thing about them. They are a team. They truly are. I’m very proud of them and I am anxiously waiting the birth of my first grandson in April. It made me tear up when they told me that they are going to name him after my Dad. He’s going to get a lot of love growing up. His three big sisters will spoil him rotten and my son-in-law will have another “man” in the house and I know that he is looking forward to spending time with his son. I’m hoping that in a couple of years or so we’ll have a bonding experience of all three of us together doing something that is “manly”. Maybe we’ll get matching flannel shirts and cargo pants and go exploring in this wilderness I call home. Yea, I can dig that.

The Twirl

            It was a Saturday night and I had just gotten my two kids bathed. Matt was 4 and Hayley was 3. We lived in a two-story townhouse with all of the bedrooms upstairs along with two baths. The downstairs had a dining room, kitchen, living room and a half bath. I always gave the kids a bath in “their” bath. Their bath had a big tub and it was generally attended to by assorted toys, bubble bath, children’s shampoo, and just about anything that I could be talked into for the given bath.

            On that night I gave them a bath and while sitting on a stool beside the tub I read while they played. After about 15 minutes of playing I would take each one of them out of the tub, dry them off, and send them to their rooms to put on their night clothes. I must admit that I had to re-dress them many times given the pajamas or night gown were on inside out or backwards. I would then comb out the tangles in their hair (mostly my daughter’s) and then we headed downstairs to get in the big recliner so that I could read to them. As we got to the bottom of the stairs my daughter asked me to “twirl” her. Every parent has done this with their child many times. There was enough clear area to do the twirling and they both had to have turns. This time was very different though. I picked up my daughter and started to swing her around when she let out a blood curdling scream. I got down on my knees and asked her what was wrong. She was crying profusely and could only manage to point at her arm. When I touched her arm, she screamed again. About this time, I felt like a child abuser! Obviously, there was something wrong. I told my wife that I better take Hayley to the emergency room. My wife stayed home with our son.

            We got to the ER and I explained to the attending physician the problem. Hayley was still holding her arm and crying. They immediately took Hayley in for x-rays. Meanwhile, all of the nurses and attendants were giving me looks that could shrivel steel. It was easy to see what they were thinking.

            After about 30 minutes we got the results and it turned out that when I had picked Hayley up her shoulder had gotten dislocated. The doctor popped it back into place and put a sling on her arm. I was told to have her wear it for 48 hours and there should be no problem. There was ice cream on the way home. There was a hundred or so professions of “I love you” from me to Hayley. I felt terrible. She got some extra rocking and a lot of lovin’ that night.

            The next morning, we got up and got ready for church. I don’t think her arm or shoulder was actually hurting, but she put on a show while being dressed for church. She proudly wore her little sling like a badge of honor. We got to the church and I got her out of the car and had her stand there a moment while I locked and closed the car door. About that time one of our finest ladies of the church, a deacon’s wife no less, stopped to say hello and saw sweet little Hayley standing there wearing her sling. The lady bent down and said to Hayley, “Well now honey, what happened to you?” To which my sweet little angel, with quivering lip, said, “My Daddy broke my arm.” The look on the lady’s face was priceless. I started to stammer and searched for the right thing to say and then explained as succinctly as possible what had happened. This little scene was repeated about half a dozen times before we got to the church nursery. I think I shrunk about half a foot throughout the process. To my ex’s credit, she did confirm the true event as it happened, and I managed to survive the morning.

            I tell you this story to reinforce the old saying that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Don’t assume something without all the facts. Also, don’t twirl your kids. We adults are much stronger than we think we are and while horsing around can be fun, it needs to be done with the safety of the child at all costs. I love my kids so very much. I loved them through each stage of their lives (perhaps their teens were a bit trying), and the love has grown exponentially where my grandchildren are concerned. Our children are such wonderful gifts from God and grandchildren are the cream on top of the cake. If you have children or grandchildren, you probably know exactly how I feel. If not, then if you become a parent, thank God for sharing them with you.

Eye Didn't See It Coming

            I received a notification in the mail from my optometrist that I am overdue for a check-up. It seems that I’m past the once every two-year examination period. Getting this notification caused me to think back a quarter of a century ago. But first, let me tell you about my current pair of glasses. They took some getting used. They’re the kind with “graduated lenses”. I’m thinking they must have graduated from the school of “Let’s bug the heck out of this fool!” There’s nothing wrong with them except for there are times I have to move my head up and down to home in on what I’m trying to see. I probably look like I have the St. Vitus Dance. When I got them, I was so proud. Why? Because I finally got a Harley Davidson. Who knew that Harley Davidson makes glasses? They’re a whole heck of lot cheaper than their motorcycles!

            Anyway, when I turned 39-years-old I was urged by my then wife to go in for a yearly physical. Given I hadn’t had one of those for 7 years and it was more of a cursory exam, it probably wasn’t a bad idea. But I’m like every other guy out there that will do almost anything to avoid a physical examination. This changes quite a bit with age, I might add. But that’s another story. I called my doctor’s office and set the appointment. I figured if nothing else I had a great excuse for missing work for half a day. I got to the doctor’s office and filled out the necessary paperwork. I hadn’t seen him in at least three years and that was for a sinus infection. He had never done a physical exam on me. After waiting for a few minutes my name was called. When I stepped into the examining room the assistant, a not-unattractive young woman, handed me one of those hospital gowns that I had never worn and had been happy to avoid for my then entire life. I looked at the gown, then at the assistant, back at the gown, and then I said to the assistant, “But I’m just here for a physical examination. Why do I need to wear this?” She said it was necessary so that the doctor could properly exam me. Just what was he planning to examine! She then told me to remove all of my clothes including my underwear. If I could have run away, then I would have. But my wife would only drag me back down there. So, the “man” in me said, “Get tough, dude! You can do this!”

            I stripped down and put that gown on and discovered that it was very skimpy and very drafty. I am still convinced it was two sizes too small. And what’s with those string ties in the back. They do not hold tight and allow the gown to cover what it should. There I sat waiting for the doctor on a sheet of paper on the examining table. After a few moments the doctor came into the room and we exchanged pleasantries. Things started out innocent enough. He looked in my ears, tried to blind me with his little flashlight, probed my tongue and throat with a tongue depressor that had a taste that made me want a popsicle, listened to my heart while thumping my chest like a watermelon, and checking my reflexes with one of those little hammers. I’m thinking this was going pretty quickly. That’s when he told me to stand up. I did as I was told and dang if the doctor didn’t lift up that little gown and, uh, take hold of me and said, “Cough”. I coughed. “Again”. I coughed again. “One more time”. I coughed one more time. I figured this explained the gown. But no, it wasn’t the only reason.

            The doctor looked at me and asked me when the last time I had my prostate examined. I should have lied. I should have said anything but, “I’ve never had it examined.”

            “Well, I think it’s time then.” He says.

            I’m thinking, “Can’t we talk about this first?” Isn’t there an appeals process?” But I just stood there like a deer in the headlights on the side of the road that waits until you’re ten feet away and then jumps in front of your car. He walks over to the table with all the supplies and takes out a pair of latex gloves. In my head I’m screaming, “Please NO!”

            He calmly tells me to turn around and bend over onto the examining table. It lasted about 10 seconds and I felt completely violated. But then he said, “No problems there.”

            Meanwhile, if there had been something to crawl under in the room, then I would have been there. I’m thinking that the worst is definitely over and technically that was true. But there was one last bit of humiliation that I had to suffer. He said, “Let’s go have those eyes checked out.”

            I asked if I could put back on my clothes first. He’s already got the darn door open and says, “Naw, it’ll be quicker if he just walk down the hall to the room with the whatchamacallit.” I have no idea what the name for the machine is, so we’re stuck with that name. There I go following the doctor down the hall, tugging at the back of the gown and probably turning red from head to toe. We go in this little room and he tells me to look into this machine and he asks me questions about what I’m seeing. He finishes and says, “No problems there.”

            Finally, I’m allowed to go back and get dressed. I was a complete wreck. My nerves were shot, and I couldn’t make eye-contact with any of the staff or other patients for fear that they would burst out laughing and point at me like I was a little circus monkey that rides around on the back of an elephant. I paid the bill and slinked out of the office as quickly as I could. I got back in the car and decided two things. First, I needed a candy bar and a Dr. Pepper. Second, I was calling into work and taking off the rest of the day. I was just too traumatized to get anything done. I had 4 hours before the kids got home from school. Four hours to recover and soothe my nerves.

            Well, all that just to tell you that as of the age of 39 I had great eyes. No problems reading. No problems of any kind. But something went haywire over the next year. It all began one night when I was reading in bed and I asked my wife if she noticed that publishers were printing books in smaller print. I griped about them probably saving money by having to print less pages per book. But then I noticed that the print was getting smaller on everything. Then it hit me. I must need reading glasses. I began by buying some of those reading glasses that they sell at the grocery store pharmacy. Within a few months I finally went to the optometrist. He blew air in my eyes, made me looked into one of those machines again as well as a few other ones, and then dilated my eyes. He tried to blind me is what he did! The result? I needed some reading glasses. No kidding. Is that the problem, Doc?” They had all kinds of frames. It was an era when glasses were big. At least they had stopped with the thick black plastic frames. Clark Kent can have them!

            Well, it’s been downhill since then. The reading glasses became necessary. About every couple of years, I needed a little bit stronger pair. But then sometime in my early 50’s it wasn’t just a close-up problem anymore. I needed glasses for everything. It got to the point where when I saw a sign with red lettering, I indeed saw red, but didn’t have a clue what it said. This brings me back to today. I’m going to have to call and set an appointment. Without my glasses everything is a complete blur. Never mind reading. I can’t watch the TV without my glasses. I sure shouldn’t drive without my glasses. I couldn’t read street signs or warning signs without my glasses. I remember having to take a physical when I was 20 years-old for a job requirement. My eyesight was 20-17. Better than average. Everything was clear. Those were the days! But our deterioration of our eyes is only part of growing older. Look at it this way. You buy a new car and the headlights are clear, clean, unscratched and perfect. They stay that way for a long time as a general rule, but several years of harsh weather and the sun and road grime take their toll. And like cataracts, the lenses start to yellow. Headlights aren’t exactly cheap anymore either. There are some made for the better cars that will cost up to $2000 a headlight now. Guess what? You can get Lasek/Lasik surgery for less than that per eye. If you’re a candidate for that option I’m told it’s like getting new eyes. It was for my father. He was 93-years-old and could see better than I can.

            Whether or not that is in my future remains to be seen (pardon the pun). My point here is two-fold. First, we need to appreciate what we have while we have it. Chances are we’re going to lose some things along the way. I know that I have. Second and more importantly, we need to be patient with other people who no longer have perfectly working parts. Whether it be from age or misfortune. The old man who takes a little longer to count out his money in the grocery store line in front of you was once young and had perfect vision, his hands didn’t shake, and he didn’t shuffle when he walked. If you’re lucky, then that could be you someday. The elderly woman who is backing up foot traffic at the store entrance as she attempts to get through the doorway with her walker could be your mother. I would love to have my mother back, walker and hearing aids included. Have compassion for other people. Grow some patience. You’re likely going to need it when it takes you three times as long to get from your car to the grocery store entrance. See ya!

Priming The Pump and A Rat

            About 1962 my grandfather installed an electric pump on their water well. From time to time you would hear it start up after someone ran a bath or shower. Prior to the electric pump they had a windmill. That pump was a big step up for them. But it wasn’t without its drawbacks. The switch to turn on the pump was located outside by the pump next to the well. Grandpa always had a couple of gallon jugs of water sitting on the back porch. Why? Because if the pump had been turned off while they were away it would need to be primed before turning it back on.

            Grandpa passed away in 1967 and Grandma wasn’t able to live out on the farm by herself because of health concerns. She bought a house in town and would go out to the farm a couple of days a week. That lasted for about 2 years, but she had developed heart problems and she needed to move close to her daughters (my mother being one of them). So, visits to the farm became less and less frequent over the next several years. We did have a large family Thanksgiving there in 1972, 1973, and 1975. The first person there had to prime the pump and get the water flowing, light the pilot light in the oven, and light the pilot in the water heater. A collection of water jugs kept on that back porch. The one thing that you didn’t want to do was get there after dark in the summer. It meant that you had to go out to the pump with a flashlight, prime the pump with someone holding the flashlight because it took two hands to prime that pump, and then turn on the pump and make sure it was working properly. The deal was you never knew if there might be a snake out there! It was always better to get there in daylight.

            In the fall of 1978, my wife and I decided to spend a weekend up at the farm. Since we both worked, we didn’t get up to the farm until after dark. But we managed to get the old pump primed and running without a problem. We would end up going to the farm for weekends and such several times over the years. That pump was getting older and older as the years passed by. In August of 1982 we decided to spend a week of our vacation at the farm. When I tried priming the pump when we got there it just wouldn’t come on. I checked everything out and finally went to the fuse box and checked the dedicated fuse for the pump. Sure enough it was blown. After a trip into Crockett hardware store, it didn’t take me long to get the fuse changed and the old pump running. That was some week. We had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable weather. Hot doesn’t come close to describing it. By that time, we had installed a window A/C in the main bedroom. There was just no way to air condition the whole house, so we had a “cool” room to sleep in. We didn’t even think about watching TV. That wasn’t a priority. Yes, there was an old black and white TV there and an antenna, but we didn’t go up there to watch the TV.

            Oh, how I wish I could be in the shape I was then! We went for several long hikes over the 360 acres of woods and pastures. We explored the farm the way that I had as a child. A couple of canteens and some peanut butter crackers and we were good. I still recall very vividly walking across the pasture where I am currently sitting in my house. The old barbed wire gap gave me fits because it hadn’t been used in years. Then there were a couple of things that had to be dealt with. The heat actually helped us in one respect. At that time, the farmhouse only had the original bathroom. My grandfather preferred taking a shower over a bath, so they had the old tub replaced in the 60’s with a shower. By 1982 the floor of the shower was rotted through. If we had tried to stand in the shower, then we likely would have fallen through the floor. But we were never going to make it a week without a shower. We were used to one every day by then. What to do. Well, I came up with a solution. This is where the heat came in handy. Had it been cold outside, we couldn’t have done what we did. There were still clothesline poles in the back yard of the house. There was an outdoor spigot in the back yard. I went back to the hardware store and got a water hose and one of those sprayers that you hook to the hose and it has a couple of settings for the flow of water. I hooked it up and then draped the hose over one of the clothesline poles and we had a shower. The only thing was if someone were to drive by, they would get an eyeful! So, we took turns standing lookout while the other took a shower. I must admit that was another kind of priming the pump! Hey, we were young!

            The “cool” room didn’t have a full-sized bed. It just had two twin beds. Given we were still young and in love, we pushed the beds together. In those days there was no light pollution at all up here in the country. If you turned off the lights in the house and put your hand in front of your face, you weren’t going to be able to see your hand. Not unless there was a full-moon. It wasn’t a full-moon the week we were there. The farmhouse would not be renovated until the next year. So, it was pretty doggone rustic. One night we went to bed and after reading for a bit turned out the light and we both fell fast asleep. The whirring of the A/C unit made it very easy. But sometime in the middle of the night I woke up and something seemed off. I was groggy to be sure, but I sensed something amiss. It was dark as Texas Tea in that room. Then I felt it. Something was crawling on me and had stop on my stomach. It was not a bug. Nope, it was heavier than a bug. It was just laying there on my stomach. I suddenly thought that it was a rat! I could just see its beady red eyes. Well, it actually only had one pinkish colored eye. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want the thing to bite me or my wife, but I wasn’t prepared for it to stay where it was either. Then the idea came to me. I figured if I was quick enough, I could grab that critter and throw it across the room. I steeled myself for the coming confrontation and then grabbed that one-eyed rodent and tried to throw it as far as I could. But it was a stubborn critter. So was I. Then in all one very fast split-second I managed to throw it to the ground, and I heard two things. First, a loud thud. Just how big was that critter? Second, I heard my wife scream. Did it bite her? Was this going to mean a trip to the hospital in Crockett? Nope. I reached over and turned on the reading light and to my surprise the thud I had heard had been my wife. There was no critter either. The critter had been her hand! I had managed to literally toss her out of bed. That one pink eye had been the pink lindy star sapphire ring that I had given my wife for our first anniversary. I don’t know who was more surprised. Her or me. She sat on the floor looking up at me like I was some kind of idiot. Perhaps so. But after about a minute of explaining we both got quiet and then we both burst out loud with laughter.

            At the end of the week we were rested and had enjoyed our time despite “roughing it”. However, I must admit that we were glad to get back home to where the water flowed out of faucets without priming a pump first, where we had central air, and where taking a shower didn’t include potential exhibitionism. Those were the days of our lives. Wait, where have I heard that before? Hmmmm.

Graffiti On The Road of Life - Happy New Year!

            I believe that one of the things we feel as we grow older is that time seems to fly by. When we were kids, it seemed like birthdays and Christmas and other special days took forever to arrive. But as we age, we start to perceive the passage of time as speeding up. Perhaps its partly because we are busier during our so-called “productive” years. But I think that it is something we don’t really see until years have passed by. Here we are again marking the end of one year and the beginning of another year. I have memories of New Year’s Eves in the past, but there are some that stand out more than others. There’s one in particular that was my favorite. More about that in a minute. There were several years in the early 80’s that I spent the incoming new year with my then wife and my sister and her husband. We were pretty sedate by some people’s standards. We played UNO, watched a movie, and ordered pizza. Not exactly party animals! I recall the evening of 1985 being saddened by the news of the death of Rick Nelson. He has always been one of my favorite recording artists. There was the evening of 1979 into 1980 that my wife and I went to see a movie with a friend and his wife. The movie was rather boring though. There weren’t many New Year’s Eves of my childhood that I recall. It wasn’t a big deal at the time. I vaguely remember ushering in 1969 by opening the back door and yelling “Happy New Year”. I probably only irritated old man Hopper next door. So far as the 90’s were concerned, we didn’t do much of anything. By then we had two kids and didn’t feel much like getting out in the crowds. Unfortunately, I remember ushering in 2002 very well. My marriage was on very shaky ground. My wife decided to spend the evening with friends in Galveston. My kids were old enough to have their own plans. I got my camera and went for a drive that night. It was very cold and windy. I ended up taking a walk down a long pier in La Porte, Texas and took some photos that captured the loneliness that I was feeling. Not exactly a happy night. My old friend Lonny Schonfeld and I spent a couple of New Year’s Eves in the 2000’s just hanging out together at the farm. Bottle rockets and a campfire, but not exactly exciting. I’ve spent most of the past 10 or so New Year’s Eves doing nothing. For most of them, I was alone.

            Back to that one very special New Year’s Eve. It was the end of 1973 and the beginning of 1974. I was still dating my high school sweetheart. My pal Lonny and his girlfriend Susan joined us for a memorable evening. First, we went to a movie. And what a movie it was for us. Although I’ve seen it many times since, it still holds a whole host of great memories. The movie was “American Graffiti”. Lonny and I loved the soundtrack of old songs and the comedy of the movie. My girlfriend and I snuggled close together and I still remember the white sweater, so incredibly soft, that she was wearing. She was beautiful in my eyes and that is how I wish to remember her. She was 17 and I was 18. After the movie we went to a pizza restaurant. It was incredibly crowded. It literally took 2 hours to get our pizza, but we had our own booth and the friendship and conversation was golden. We reflected on the year that was ending and how great it had been, and we also talked about the year to come and all of our hopes and dreams. Lonny and I would be graduating from high school in another 5 months. We were already signed-up for several musical performances and we thought 1974 was going to be the beginning of a long and successful career in music. It didn’t turn out that way, but for that night the world and all of life was in front of us.

            After eating pizza, we went for a drive in my 1968 Plymouth Sport Fury. I had also been asked to occasionally drive my sister’s car that was just sitting at our house waiting to be sold. So, when the gas in my car got low, we went and got that old AMC Rebel and drove it some. Yes, there was some parking and smooching along the way. But that’s what being that age is all about. It was the one night of the year that my girlfriend’s parents would let her stay out past midnight. But not by much! The warmth of cuddling in that old AMC with the temperature outside being quite cold made things seem so sweet. Peppermint kisses with the radio playing the current hits was something special. I remember feeling on top of the world when The Carpenters’ number one hit “Sitting On Top of The World” played through the little 3-inch speaker in the dash of that old car. At the stroke of midnight there were New Year’s kisses and wishes for the best year ever to come.

            Well, as you can see, that was a special time for me. I’d like to think it still holds meaning to my old girlfriend, but I haven’t seen her in a very long time and haven’t been close to her since 1975. I’m pretty sure that my friend Lonny has good feelings about that night as well. I never really knew his old girlfriend very well and I have no idea how she might feel about that night. For all that I know she just remembers it as any other date, or she might not remember it at all. That night was 46 years ago tonight. Now I’m 64-years-old as is Lonny. I would be a liar if I said that I don’t wish for someone special to share my days with.

            So, how did 1974 turn out? You know, things have a way of changing very fast when we are young. Our musical duet had some successes, but some hard times hit us, and we were done as a duet by the middle of the year. We tried to recapture the magic in early 1975, but it wasn’t to be. But the friendship has been maintained even though there were some ups and downs along the way. By the end of 1974, Lonny had joined the Air Force only to be injured in boot camp and honorably discharged. I know it was a topsy-turvy time for him. For me too. My girlfriend and I broke up in April of 1974 and then got back together several times over the next year. But it was over for good by early 1975. That doesn’t diminish the memories though. We were on a journey that continues to this day and the time I had with her was special. It’s just that we were young and still growing-up.

            So, I wish for you tonight a very Happy New Year. I hope that you share it with loved ones and that it will be a special new year for you. I had a few very good and happy New Year’s Eves along the way even if they weren’t quite as special as that one. Looking back on it, I think that a lot of what makes for great memories depends on our attitude. Perhaps some of those years that didn’t seem all that special would today hold more meaning if at the time I had a better attitude. I guess we never stop learning. As the New Year unfolds for you, I wish you all the best and I pray that your year is a safe and happy one.

But Wait! There's More!!

            I must be some kind of ugly. At least, it appears that cable advertisers must think so. I’m supposed to get about 150 stations. The vast majority of them are selling products via those infernal “infomercials”. I woke up about 4 a.m. today and couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I turned on the TV and got so depressed that it made me get sleepy. Why so depressed? Because if I am just a tenth as bad off as all those infomercials think that I am, then I belong in a horror movie. Look out Boris, here I come!

            According to these infomercials there’s not a thing about me that appealing, but they have the cure. Let’s start from the top – my hair. It all depends on the advertiser, but I apparently have a whole host of problems with my hair. They have the cure for it all though. No hair? They can grow hair, transplant it, plug it, extend it, basically you name it and they can fix the problem with my hair. Too thin? They’ll fatten up that hair really quick. Hair where you don’t want it? They can get rid of it. They must think that I have hair growing like weeds out of my ears, out of my nose, on my neck, too much on my chest, and I must have mohair on my legs. Never fear! They can zap it, map it, and flap it however I might wish. Eyebrows giving a Russian a run for the money? No problem. Speaking of eyes. I must have the worst vision of any human ever. But they can Lasik or Lasek it. Eyes too dry? They’ll get you fixed-up. Do you need purple eyes? They have purple contacts just for that. Moving down a bit, there’s that nose. What a proboscis! Is my nose too fat? They’ll put it on a diet. Is it too narrow? They’ll fatten it up some. Want to have a ski jump for a nose? Get ready to accommodate the smallest of ski enthusiasts. Lips to narrow? They’ll fluff them right up. Too fat? They’ll take some off and put it somewhere else. (I kid you not) Now we get to the horror or horrors. Crepey skin. It starts with your neck and then can be found just about anywhere on your body. But they have a way to smooth it all out. Ain’t they clever? Too much twaddle? They’ll twiddle that twaddle and take it away in a bottle.

            I think they are confused about my pectoral muscles. I either don’t have any or I’ve got some poorly shaped pecs. Frankly, I don’t think it’s either of those problems, but I won’t go into that. There must be a thousand different ways to lose that gut. Special diets, no dieting with supplements of the right kind, and all kinds of exercise to get back to that perfect weight. They have machines of all kinds, bikes, treadmills, aerobics, walking, running, and various exercises to thin you down. EXCEPT I can’t do all of those things with my arthritis, bad joints, balance issues, and inflamed nerves. But wait, there’s more! They can give you a new knee, new hip, restore the feeling to your numb feet, and fix that pesky sciatica nerve that hurts from your, uh, butt to your foot. Speaking of feet. Bone spurs? They got the answer. It fits in your shoe and before you know it the spur is gone! Toenail fungus? You’d think there are people out there turning into mushrooms the way the advertiser talks about it. And, for crying out loud they just had to show pictures of the feet belonging to the Mushroom People. It’s a serious problem. How do I know? They even made a movie about it back in 1967 called “Attack of The Mushroom People”. Now, I’m not going to go any further with the next rogue part of the human anatomy other than to say that if you got problems (and there must be a whole bunch of problems) “down there”, then they likely can set it right. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

            Now for a bit of serious talk. I’m not making fun of anyone who has physical problems. Hey, I’m 64-years-old and I’ve truly got my share. I’ll just say this. The obsession we seem to have with our looks is just that. An obsession. Obviously, it’s the right thing to do to take a shower or bath daily. You should at least try to have better looking hair than Albert Einstein. At the least, comb it. If putting on make-up for the ladies makes you feel better, then go for it, but try not to get obsessed with the wrinkles to the point that you spend all your money on plastic surgery. Try to keep the weight down, but don’t starve yourself or have dangerous surgery to suck out the fat.

            The truth is God loves you just the way you are and I’m betting that the important people in your life feel the same way. Let’s face it. If we are to grow old, and that is a wish that we should all have, then our bodies are going to change. It’s ok. No, I don’t have the body that I had 40 years ago. But I’d like to think that I have gained wisdom while my body aged. And, if we are on the right path to wisdom, then we should know that it is our hearts and our minds that matter the most. So, what if I have some “crepey” skin. I earned the heck out of it. That extra weight? It’s more of me to love! But not too much. I’m fortunate to have all of my hair. But if you’re bald, that’s ok too. You might not have crepey skin like I do. If you ever meet someone that appears to be perfect, think again. Even when I was 20-years-old, in the best shape of my life, had flawless skin, and was way too “sexy for my shirt”, I was on the road to where I am now. That’s life.

            I went to a high school class reunion a couple of months ago. None of us looked like we did when we were 18 or 38 or even 50. But there’s something that happens to most of us as we age. At least, it has for me. When I see a young attractive woman today, I see my daughter. I find women my age more attractive. Why? Part of it is because they have been through many of the same trials and tribulations that I have and that’s something we can understand about each other. Also, I want to be able to talk to a woman who remembers things from long ago that I remember. I don’t want to try to explain what it was like in 1968 or 1975 or 1982 to someone who wasn’t born until 1994. And, there’s something about a woman my age that is very appealing. Maybe it’s a little self-preservation as well. I can’t bring myself to be critical of a woman having for gray hair and wrinkles when I myself have plenty of both. The bottom line is to be happy with who you are and where you are in life. Love someone for the person that they are. Not the person that they once were or could be if they had a bunch of work done on them. I’m not perfect and never will be. I will always do my best with what I’ve got, but I won’t ever be perfect. I’m ok with that if you are.

Why I Don't Have A Cat In The House

            I have a cat. Well, perhaps he has me. The jury is still out on that one. His name is Moe. I named him after one of the 3 Stooges. He is strictly an outside cat. He appeared on my front porch one day and hasn’t seen fit to leave. I could tell you all the reasons why I don’t or can’t have a cat in the house, and there are many, but instead I wanted to tell you one very good reason.      

            About 4 o’clock this morning I was in the middle of a nightmare that was of epic proportions. It was one of those nightmares that you can’t seem to wake up from. Obviously, I did wake up from it eventually, but let me tell you, that was one wicked nightmare. It began innocently enough. The only thing that might have alerted me to the fact that something was just not right was the fact that in the dream Moe lived in the house. As much as I like Moe, that just isn’t going to happen. But there I was asleep in my dream when Moe started to meow loudly. He jumped up on the bed and started to mewl and behave as though something was terribly wrong. It woke me up in my nightmare. Of course, in reality I was still quite asleep. It seemed as though Moe was intent on going outside. So, I staggered into the living room, shuffled my way through the kitchen, and into the laundry room where the back door is located. Moe was trying his best to lead me there and at the same time trip me by running circles around me. Let me stop for a minute and explain something.

            I live in the country. So far back in the sticks that an old friend who came to visit got out of his car (after I had to meet him on the highway to guide him to my place) and said, “Does God know this place is here?” One thing that you have to be at peace with if you’re going to live out here is the fact that there are all kinds of animals that you just don’t see in an urban area. You most likely don’t see most of them on your Sunday afternoon drive into what you think of as the sticks. There’s the somewhat tame animals that are here on purpose. These would be horses, cows, dogs, cats, and I even have a couple of neighbors that raise goats and sheep. Then there’s the typical country animals. Wild hogs (shot on sight if at all possible), raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, possums and their Irish cousins O’possums, a rogue beaver or two, an army of armadillos, a variety of snakes, giant snapping turtles in the stock tanks, birds too numerous to name (But I love the Red-Tail Hawks), mice, rats, spiders, wasps, bees, yellow-jackets, and deer. Lots of deer. All the deer know to come to my pastures because they know they won’t get shot. Obviously, we have plenty of animals. I’m likely forgetting some.

            Back to the nightmare. I made my way to the back door. I opened the door to let Moe outside and for about 5 seconds he just stood there. He was staring out the back door, but not moving to leave. Then he started to slowly back away from the door only to suddenly turn tail and speed away back into the house. Like a dern fool I just had to look outside to see what had caused Moe’s about-face. It was one of those animals. Oh, I didn’t mention them before. It was Pepe’ Le Pew himself. I don’t know who was more surprised. Pepe’ or me. But Pepe’ got over it first and proceeded to walk into the laundry room. Now just what was I supposed to do? The slightest move might cause Pepe’ to release that fragrance that he has. Pepe’ just looked at me and at first I thought it was a smile, but then it appeared to be a sneer. Not good. I had visions of my house smelling like good ole Pepe’ for months. That’s when Moe decided to come back and investigate things. Unfortunately, Moe is an orange tabby. No chance of Pepe’ mistaking Moe for a possible amorous encounter. Not to mention he is a he. Pepe’ started to raise his tail and I knew I had to do something. The door was wide open and Pepe’ was standing in the middle of the opening. After what I did next, the Houston Texans may want to hire me. I took aim and then with all my might kicked Pepe’ as far as I could. In this case, it was pretty far. It was the equivalent of a 60-yard field goal. I slammed the door while Pepe’ was headed for the goal posts and looked through the window in the door to see what Pepe’ might do. To my relief he landed on all four and made a dash for a safer place. No stink in the house. No stink on the house. No stink on me. No stink on Moe. All of that was stinkin’ good.

            This is when I really did wake up. I was still in bed and if I didn’t live alone, I likely would have frightened everyone in the house with my scream.  Jeez, as soon as it was out, I felt like Jamie Lee Curtis doing her scream queen routine. I got up and walked around the house. Frankly, I just couldn’t bring myself to open an outside door. Pepe’ might have been there for real. It’s happened before. I even came home evening after dark and sitting on the front porch like he belonged there was an albino skunk. No kidding. That’ll get your attention.

            So, no Moe in the house. Not only can I not risk being scratched with my platelet problem, but there’s the unpleasant part of a litter box, furniture torn to shreds, and jumps into the lap that can cause serious and excruciating pain. No, Moe gets some petting on the chair on the porch and my sweet talk, but that’s it. To be honest, I don’t think he really wants much more anyway. Well, now you know why I don’t have cats in the house.

Today Is Yesterday's Future

P            I believe that most of us are fascinated when we see a movie set in the “near future” (let’s say, less than 50 years). Most of the time we can imagine still being alive when that fictional future is supposed to come to pass. I know for a fact that I won’t still be living this life in the 23rd Century. So, no flying through the Universe at warp speed with Captain Kirk or Captain Picard. But it’s certainly possible that I’ll be around in 15 years. One of the things about New Year’s Day that I think is in the back of our minds each year is the fact that we’re still among the breathing. Another thing is we make all kinds of plans meant to revise our current existence.

            I remember in the fall of 1966 we were all gathered around the TV watching an episode of the “Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea” series. There came a point in the show when it showed that it was the year 1972. “WOW!”, I thought at the time. 1972! It seemed so far into the future to my 11-year-old self. After all, it was over half as many years away as I had been alive. But 1972 got here pretty darned fast and so far as I know, there wasn’t a “flying sub” and still isn’t. Then in 1973 many of us flocked to the theater to see a new sci-fi movie starring Charlton Heston called “Soylent Green”. It was a decidedly dark view of the future and I might add it wasn’t near being accurate. Not yet, anyway. It took place in the year 2022. Yea, that’s only 2 years away from now instead of the 49 it was in 1973. I vaguely remember projecting myself into the future by 49 years at the time. But I turned 18 that year and no 18-year-old ever thinks he’s going to grow old. One of the main characters is said to have been born in 1954 and he could remember the world before it was so messed-up with famine, over-population, and an out of control government. Here in America we don’t really know famine. Yes, some people go hungry in America today, but for the most part any adult does so out of choice. Some of our cities are over-populated (my opinion), but there are vast areas of America with very few people in them. An out of control government? OK, two out of three ain’t bad.

            Well, here we are a week away from 2020. That means Arnold Schwarzenegger won’t be going back to 1984 for another 8 years. But seriously, today is yesterday’s future. Life isn’t what I thought it would be in 2020 when I was 20. Nothing terribly new about that though. We simply cannot predict the future. We might be able to get some things right, but for the most part we just can’t see what the future will be like. A short 30 years ago most of us couldn’t see the Internet coming. If asked what “CGI” stood for we wouldn’t have had a clue. Almost all movies incorporate CGI in some way or other today. I must admit that cars are much more dependable today than ever before. But they also have an Achilles heel. An EMP would instantly reduce them to 3,000-pound paper weights. But I believe the biggest change we’ve seen is in the way of societal changes. Forty-seven years ago, it was still illegal to have an abortion in America. We’ve murdered over 50 million children since it became legal in 1973. You want a bleak future? That fits the bill to me. Forty-five years ago, we finally got out of the Vietnam War. For nearly 20 years we had a relative peacetime. But the last 30 years have seen a lot of killing via armed conflicts and America has been right in the middle of it. When I was studying for my degree in History, I just couldn’t understand things like “The 30 Year War” or “The 100 Year War”. Most wars that America had been involved in lasted about 4 or 5 years with Vietnam lasting 9 years. But 30 years of non-stop war? That’s just nuts. But as I have grown older, I realize that war is a part of the human condition. There’s a verse that goes, “There will be wars and rumors of wars” from Matthew 24:6.

            As I mentioned earlier, we’re about to enter a new year and a new decade. What does the near future hold? We can make our predictions, but we won’t know until tomorrow happens. However, while we may not be able to change the world’s macro future, we certainly can be effectual on our own personal micro future. We can change a negative attitude into a positive attitude. We can love instead of hate. We can spend more time thinking about what we are doing than staring blindly at a 55” television screen with talking heads seemingly interested in spreading mis-information. And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us pray for guidance, try loving instead of hating, and as the old song goes, “accentuate the positive”, then we just might see a bright future instead of a bleak one. As we embark on this year to be, let’s try working together instead of against each other. Let’s make sure that we are individually a strong link in the chain of mankind. Happy New Year, my friends.

The Greatest Gift Ever For Christmas

            During the last couple of weeks, I have shared many Christmas memories with you via several blog entries. Most of them were told as memories of different Christmas’s and through the eyes of whatever age that I was during the specific Christmas. I’ve talked a lot about gifts given and received. I’ve talked a lot about time spent together with family. All of these things are definitely important to me and hold a special place in my heart. But in this blog entry I want to be a little bit more serious. There’s a phrase that has been very popular over the past few decades that goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Yes, that is true. But somehow or other the phrase seems to diminish meaning behind it.

            When I was growing-up we didn’t usually attend a Christmas Eve service. Mainly it was due to the churches that we attended had the big Christmas service on the Sunday prior to Christmas Day. In those years, Christmas Eve was spent traveling to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Sometimes Mom and Dad had to both work on Christmas Eve and would not get home until too late to get ready and attend a service if there was one. But let me tell you that first and foremost in our minds really was the birth of Jesus and what it meant to not only us, but all of mankind. On a few occasions we were able to get to my grandparent’s farm with time to attend the Christmas Eve service as a family. The little church was and is a very small church. It serves a small community in the country. I remember one year when I was about 5-years-old that I was spending time with my grandparents leading up to Christmas Eve. My grandmother made sure that I was in my little light blue sport coat with a bow-tie. I even had to take a bath in the big tub in the kitchen that afternoon, much to my displeasure, to make sure that I represented Grandma and Grandpa properly. The church was a one room church. On Sunday mornings each age group split up and set together in a couple of pews to have Sunday School. Then the service came. There was an old pump organ for accompaniment. My grandmother sometimes played the pump organ when the lady who usually played it was not available. That little church began in 1862. It was started by my great-great grandfather. On the particular night I mention it was the service for Christmas. There were Christmas decorations, a Christmas Tree, and everyone was dressed-up in their “Sunday Go To Meeting” attire. The pastor, Brother Kee, read the Christmas story from the book of Luke and expounded on the miracle that the birth of our savior meant to the world. After the service was over something happened that I’ll always remember. I had noticed earlier that there were many presents under the Christmas Tree. I figured they were just for decoration. Empty boxes in Christmas wrapping. But that wasn’t the case. Brother Kee announced it was time for the Christmas presents to be given to the children present. Well, my first thought was one of embarrassment. I figured that since I wasn’t a member of the church there wouldn’t be a present for me. But imagine my surprise and delight when my name was called out and I was urged by my grandmother to go get the present. This couldn’t be! How did someone even know that I would be there? Once all the children had their presents, we were allowed to open them. I opened mine and it was one of those paddle balls. The kind where the paddle looks like a ping-pong paddle and a rubber band was attached to the center of the paddle and to a small rubber ball. I was thrilled. My grandfather had a dry sense of humor but was as loving a grandfather as I’ve ever known. He looked at the paddle ball and quips, “That might come in handy if you get out of line!” It was said with a smile. All these years later, I know that it was my grandmother who had bought that present and gotten it to the church before I came to visit. She wanted to make sure that I wasn’t left out by accident.

            There have been other Christmas Eves in my life when I did attend a service. They are always so very special. But on the many that were spent elsewhere the birth of our Lord and Savior was always foremost in our minds. Yes, we had the big dinner with the family, and we all loved exchanging gifts, but we never forgot the “reason for the season”. Perhaps the most special part of those Christmas’s was when it came time for the prayer before we ate. I still hear my father’s deep bass voice thanking God for His Son, for the food that we would all be shortly enjoying, and for the time spent together. I miss hearing my Dad pray. I am so very thankful for my kids and grandkids now. And, I am most thankful for Jesus. My life was changed forever nearly 2000 years before I was even born. We must remember that the miracle of Easter began with the miracle of the birth of Jesus. So, before you open the presents or take a bite of the feast, however grand or modest that they may be, be sure to thank God for Jesus and to honor Him by making sure that He is truly the reason for your Christmas gathering. We’ve already been given the only present that really matters. I pray that you all have a very Merry Christmas!

The Christmas Remodel

            In October of 1975 my parents decided to have some major remodeling done to our house. The existing kitchen was tiny, but typical for a house built in the 1950’s. There had been some remodeling done several years before when my aunt and uncle owned the house. Originally, the kitchen had a door leading to a breezeway between the house and the garage. They enclosed the breezeway and made it into a dining room and small den. When my parents decided to remodel the kitchen, they also decided to remodel the existing dining room and living area that had been the breezeway. Today we would call what they did as an “open concept” design. It would greatly expand the kitchen by incorporating the old dining area as the kitchen. The living area would become a new dining area. The old living room that bordered the kitchen and small living area or den would now all be a combined area. It was an ambitious project. I might add that we had added on a huge den in 1971. So, the old small living area wasn’t needed.

            My parents had already arranged for the remodeling to be done via a sub-contractor through Montgomery Wards. Work began the first week of October and was supposed to be finished in 3-4 weeks. I’ll get to that in a minute. But first I want to tell you about something in the old kitchen. In that old kitchen there was a small pantry, really just two large cabinets, that bordered the door opening into the living room. On one of the door-opening casings were several pencil marks. These pencil lines marked my height through the years from 11-18. It was very common in those days for homes to have something like this. The lines marked my growth in height from about 4’10” to 6’1”. The date of each line was written in pencil beside the lines. Over the years remarks about how much I had grown were made by my parents and visitors. I must tell you that I was very proud of each new line that marked my increasing height. It all started in the spring of 1967 and my mother made the first pencil mark using a ruler. I had to look up to her because at that point in time I was about 6 or 7 inches shorter than her. By the time the last one was made she was looking up to me by about 6 or 7 inches!

            Before I continue with the fate of that door-casing, I want to take a minute to point something out. For those of us who lived in one house for many years in the same neighborhood we developed many friendships that lasted for years. It wasn’t unusual to have friends whose heights versus mine would ebb and flow through the years. In early 1968 I was in 6th grade. We had a 6-week period that was dedicated to learning square dancing instead of our regular gym class. The first day of that period we were assigned a partner of the opposite sex. My partner was someone that I had met the past summer during a summer science program. I was a head shorter than her. She was probably about 5’6” tall while I was about 5’1”. We had a fun time though for the entire 6 weeks. She became a friend and over the next few years I would see her at school and later she took a job at a cafeteria where our family ate at often. By that time, we were about the same height. But in one year between 14-15 I grew an astonishing 8” in height. Suddenly, I was taller than many of the friends that I had previously been shorter than. It drove my parents crazy too. I was outgrowing new clothes within a month. Shoes were a particular problem. With greater height I gained larger feet. Not huge mind you, but larger. Our senior year rolled around and this old dance partner and I had English class together. I had recently broken-up with my long-time girlfriend (boy is that a longer store not for now) and I asked Diana out on a date. We dated off and on for several months, but it was not meant to be.

            Now, back to that door-casing. When I was dating Diana, she came over to the house quite often. On one of her visits she noticed the pencil marks and dates. I pointed to one and told her that was my height when we square danced 7 years before. We both had a good laugh over that. The remodeling of the kitchen began with the demolition of things that wouldn’t be needed. That door-casing was one of those things. None of us thought to save the door-casing or the part of it with the pencil marks. It just didn’t cross our minds at the time. Well, as these things go sometimes, the remodeling wasn’t anywhere near finished in 3-4 weeks as promised. We went about two weeks without a kitchen sink. It was driving my mother to her limit. A meeting was called with the sub-contractor and Dad pretty much read the riot act. We were promised it would be done by Thanksgiving. That had been Mom’s goal. She wanted to host the Thanksgiving feast with extended family. I probably don’t need to tell you, but it wasn’t finished in time for Thanksgiving. Christmas became the do or die goal.

            A side note now. In 1967 Mom and Dad bought the house for $12,000. It had originally been built for $8,000 about 9 years earlier. They lived there until 1979 and sold the house for $53,000. Of course, there had been a lot of improvements made over those years. I recently learned that the house is up for sale. I went online to look at pictures of the house. My goodness gracious the current owner did what you might expect from a “Fixer Upper” episode. It has been completely remodeled inside including the old huge den transformed into a new master bedroom and additional master bath, and quite a bit of improvements to the exterior as well. That kitchen has been remodeled again and the interior pretty much gutted and transformed into a showplace. The asking price is $340,000!  

Back to the Christmas of 1975 and the remodeling done then. Thankfully, the job was done by December 15, 1975. I must admit that it looked great and was a vast improvement over the way it had been. The big Christmas get-together was planned with aunts and uncles and cousins and so forth. It was a great Christmas. Mom was so proud of her new kitchen. A new refrigerator, new oven, new dishwasher, 4 times the previous counter space, a pass-through that allowed a person working in the kitchen to be a part of the conversations in the living room, and all new flooring as well as new paint. It was the kitchen that Mom had dreamed of having. The Christmas get-together was on Christmas Eve and a great time was had by all. There were lots of oohs and aahs over the remodel. I could be wrong, but I think it was probably my mother’s favorite Christmas. She had all of her kids and their significant others, her sister and brother-in-law with cousins, and her mother all together. I might add that it would still be several years before I wasn’t at one of the “kids” tables. The new dining room table would sit 8 people. Those 8 would be Mom, Dad, Aunt Velma, Uncle Victor, Grandma, and my oldest sister and her husband. Two card tables were set up in the den for me, my girlfriend (later my wife), my other sister and her husband, and three cousins. We were all OK with being at the kid’s table though. We got to watch “White Christmas” on Television while eating turkey and dressing and all the trimmings. As I write this it occurs to me that in some ways growing in height when I was a child and comparing with friends was like a competition of sorts. The competition stopped being in our height when we got grown, nonetheless there was competition. I remember going to my high school 10-year reunion and it seemed everyone was bragging on their latest job promotion, the purchase of a house, a new sportscar, and such things as these. Even now there’s a subtle competition. But it’s a friendly competition. At my recent 45th reunion for the Class of ’74 from Spring Branch High School, we bragged on our grandkids (with plenty of pictures!) and perhaps who’s ailments were worse. Remembering that house as it was then and how life was at the time reminds me of all that has changed in my old neighborhood. Where K-mart used to be is now some apartments. The Gerland’s Supermarket has been long gone for years and hardly any of the businesses and restaurants from my youth exist today. Yet when you drive down the street that our house was on there are other houses that haven’t been altered. Perhaps new coats of paint here and there, but for the most part they look the same. The old is mixed with the new. It’s like one of those old “add-a-scene” picture books that had several transparent pages. With each page things were added, but the things from the initial page are still there. Life has been superimposed over and over again with changes made, but some things left alone.

            I look at pictures taken the night of that Christmas Eve in 1975 and I see happy faces, and everyone seems so young. Even my parents look young to me now. After all, I’m 18 years older than my mother was that night! The sad fact is that 6 of those loved ones that were there for Christmas Eve have passed away. This Christmas, as you hurry about and prepare a feast, wrap presents, and do all the things associated with Christmas, take a few moments to look at your loved ones. Tell them how happy you are to be with them. Tell them you love them. One day you may be looking at a picture and remembering this Christmas the way I do that Christmas of 1975. Make sure your loved ones know how much they truly are loved. I can’t think of a better Christmas present.

Christmas Eve 1975 - My three cousins and two sisters with me.

 

Growing Up In Spring Branch and the KILT Top 40 Survey

            By the time the summer of 1968 rolled around I was hooked. No, not on drugs or any kind of substance. After all, I was only 12 at the time. No, I was hooked on an event that happened every Wednesday afternoon from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. It was a radio show hosted by Rick Shaw on KILT 610 – AM. The station had its own Top 40 survey and on Wednesday’s the new survey for the week was played, from #40 down to #1 with a couple of “Hit Bound” records that were just outside of the Top 40. I had been listening to the countdowns for nearly a year and collecting the Top 40 Surveys that were printed and free for the taking at record stores, music stores, and so forth. But with a new summer just beginning school wasn’t in the way of listening to the countdown. I still have those surveys beginning with the last week of 1966 and going through late 1979. Now, I don’t have them all and for the most part the bulk of the surveys that I have are from 1967-1972. It was kind of spotty after that.

            Every Wednesday afternoon I would tune into the station and listen for three hours to see what new songs were out, what songs dropped off the survey, and where my current favorite records were on the chart. This was long before I ever heard of Casey Kasem. During the school year I would wish the school bus to go faster so that I could get home to listen. Given I didn’t get home from school until about 3:45 I missed the first 8 or 9 songs. This meant that I would be visiting the record store down the street from my home on Friday afternoon to get the hard copy. The survey always had the lyrics to one of the songs on the page across from the survey itself. On the back of the survey was a list of the top 10 albums plus some advertising directed for teens. The front cover had pictures of the different DJ’s.

            From the beginning of June 1968 through the fall of 1970 I hardly ever missed a countdown. Listen to any classic rock station out there today and they are playing most of those songs. It’s amazing how much great music was out at the same time then. There’s been no time like it before or since. June of 1968 had “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Pictures of Matchstick Men” by The Status Quo, “Lady Willpower” by Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, and “Magic Bus” by The Who. Over the next 18 months we went through “Jumpin Jack Flash”, “Born To Be Wild”, “Hello I Love You”, “Hey Jude”, “White Room”, “Hooked On A Feeling”, “Wichita Lineman”, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, “Crimson and Clover”, “Touch Me”, “Aquarius”, “Dizzy”, “Proud Mary”, “Bad Moon Rising”, “Get Back”, “In The Year 2525”, “Get Together”, “Sugar Sugar”, “Green River”, and so many more.

            Now let’s talk about Christmas of 1969 for a minute. December 24, 1969 was a Wednesday that year. So, you can guess what I was doing on the afternoon of Christmas Eve! I listened to that countdown and some of the songs were new to me, some had been around for a while, and one or two I had managed to miss or had just not paid attention to until that countdown. It’s one of the latter that I want to mention. Diana Ross and The Supremes had the #1 record that week with “Someday We’ll Be Together”. Creedence Clearwater Revival was at #2 with “Down On The Corner”. A song that had been #1 a few weeks before was #3. It was John Denver’s first success as a songwriter, but the hit was for Peter, Paul, & Mary. The song was “Leaving On A Jet Plain”. #5, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” by local hero B.J. Thomas, faded out and Rick Shaw introduced #4. I must admit that I had somehow or other missed it before. But from the opening chords on that song I was hooked. I wasn’t sure if it was a guy or a girl singing the lead, but I really didn’t care. The song sounded great. Little did I know that the song would go on to sell 13 million copies worldwide (as of 2019) and be used in several movie soundtracks. It would be remade by a girl group in the 80’s and would be one of only a few songs that have reached #1 by different artists in different decades. The song? “Venus” by The Shocking Blue. Well, I made a quick trip to K-mart and bought that record. It had a picture sleeve and it showed the band, three guys and a girl. I remember thinking she looked hot.

            I called my best friend the day after Christmas and asked if he had listened to the survey. He said that he did, and I asked him if there was any particular song that he liked best. He said, “I really like that song about Venus.” The song would go on to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early March of 1970. But for me, I think of that Christmas when I hear it. This whole scenario happened many times from my 5th grade year through 10th grade. I still tuned in from time to time after that, but there were girls to call, I played guitar and bass in a band or two, and life was zipping along at roughly Warp 11. Those were innocent days for the most part and when I think about them now, I have fond memories. Those songs are tied to a certain age in my life along with certain places as well. I remember hearing a song called “Cinnamon” when a lumber yard down the street on Long Point Road burned down. I remember listening to “Make It With You” in the summer of 1970 while flirting with a girl 6 years older than me who worked in the record department at Woolco, also on Long Point. I remember riding in my uncle’s car when we went fishing and “After Midnight” came on the radio. We had to laugh when Uncle Victor said, “I wonder what it is they’re going to do after midnight!” Every song has a memory from my days growing up in Spring Branch, a Houston Suburb. There’s too many to mention, but if you were there then, you most likely have similar memories too. Now, go listen to some oldies!

 

 

 

 

 

Our Mortal Storm

            Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s one of the TV channels out of Houston broadcast old movies every weekday afternoon from 3-5 p.m. One day in the late 70’s I was home from work battling the flu. As I recall, I was having a hard time breathing when laying down in bed. I felt miserable and couldn’t sleep, so I plopped down on the couch and turned on the TV. My favorite actor then and for all-time was/is James Stewart. I thought I knew all of his movies, but one of his earlier movies came on for that day’s “Million Dollar Movie”. The movie was filmed and released in 1940. James Stewart was having a great run at the box office during the years of 1938-1940. He starred in “You Gotta Stay Happy”, “The Shop Around The Corner”, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”, and won his only best actor Oscar for “The Philadelphia Story”. But the movie that I watched that day wasn’t any of those. It was called “The Mortal Storm”. Besides Stewart, it also starred Margaret Sullavan, Ward Bond, Robert Stack, and a very young Robert Young many years before he new best or made a convincing family doctor on TV.

            First, let me say that the movie is great entertainment. With those actors you just couldn’t go wrong. But more important was the subject matter. Remember, this movie was made in 1940. It is one of the very few movies that Hollywood produced prior to America entering WW2 that dealt with Germany and the then Nazi regime. What always amazes me about the movie was how they showed the state of things in Germany during the 30’s leading up to 1940. The movie begins with the occasion of a very popular and much-loved professor’s 60th birthday (played by veteran character actor Frank Morgan – the Wizard of Oz himself) which happened to coincide with the coming to power of Adolph Hitler on January 30, 1933. Before long the young people of Germany were caught up in the nationalism of the Nazi Party and total loyalty to Adolph Hitler. Within a couple of years, the professor is an enemy of the state because he is not of “pure” Aryan blood and is outspoken in his views regarding Hitler and all that he brings to the country. The professor would end up dead in a concentration camp. Remember, this was several years before the true horrors of the Nazi’s and their death camps were common knowledge. The movie was based on a 1937 novel written by Phyllis Bottome. She had knowledge of what was happening in Germany due to her contacts within MI6. Yes, the same MI6 that James Bond came from.

            For two hours on that day I was able to forget about how miserable that I felt. I was completely enthralled with the movie. And, the fact that it was so darned current when it came out amazed me. Robert Young turned into quite a goose-stepping Nazi as did Robert Stack. James Stewart was in love with the professor’s daughter played by Sullavan. She would end up dead after being shot while attempting to flee the country for what was at the time of the script a still free Austria. Of course, it wouldn’t be long before that country would not be a safe haven for anti-Nazi and anti-fascism people. The only two countries in Europe that were not occupied by the Nazis in those early years of the conflict were Switzerland and Spain.

            Let’s move forward 52 years. The year was 1992. I went to see a new movie at the theater, and it dealt with the same period of time that “The Mortal Storm” took place. Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas star in the movie. Michael Douglas is in the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, and Melanie Griffith is his secretary and later his wife. Her character is very much into spy movies and there’s a scene in which she refers to “The Mortal Storm” and they even show a clip of it in the new movie, “Shining Through”. Well, I was taken back 15 years or so when I saw that, and it began a search on my part for a copy of “The Mortal Storm”. Like Jake and Elwood Blues, I was on a mission from God! We didn’t have the internet like we would in just a few more years. I simply couldn’t find a VHS copy and I doubted if one existed. The movie was little known and well-over 50 years old. Now, let’s tack on another 15 years. I was grabbing every DVD (before Blu-Ray) of old movies that I could find. I was always looking for that movie. I had managed to get a VHS taped copy via my Mother who taped it off of Turner Broadcasting. Nonetheless, I wanted a DVD copy. Amazon came meandering into our lives in the early 2000’s and by 2007 I was buying books and CD’s online from them. Movies too. One day I put “The Mortal Storm” into the search field and much to my delight it pulled up the DVD for sell. It was sold as part of the Warner Brothers “Archive Collection”. I bought it online and anxiously awaited its arrival.

            So, let me explain why I mention this to you today. I’m retired and there are days when I go pick out a movie from my collection to watch. I own about 1500 movies on DVD, Blu-Ray, and I even have some on VHS that have never been released in any other form but VHS. I woke up early this morning and since it was 27 degrees, I decided what outside work I needed to do didn’t need doing bad enough to do it in sub-freezing weather. A movie would be much more entertaining. I’ve been on a WW2 kick lately. I’ve recently watched a bunch of my WW2 themed movies. “Up Periscope”, “In Harm’s Way”, “Battle of the Bulge”, and “12 O’clock High” to name a few. This morning’s choice was “The Mortal Storm”.

            It’s amazing to me how you can watch a movie at different times in your life and a new perspective on current events can be illuminated by a movie you’ve seen many times before. Such was the case today. This movie says a lot about many things that we have taken for granted here in America. Our rights to speak, act, and believe without peril from our own government. In lieu of recent events within our House of Representative these basic rights have indeed been put in peril. But it’s not just a peril from a runaway government. Yes, there is that too. But more significantly, to me at least, is how we have been placed in peril from each other. Perhaps the comparison is yet too strong, but there is a definite comparison to be considered. In “The Mortal Storm” many Germans were stripped of their rights to speak, act, and believe however they might. Suddenly, if you weren’t actively supporting Hitler and the Nazi regime, then you were an enemy. An enemy that had to be dealt with at first with threats and innuendo and finally with death camps. No, we’re not threatened with death camps today in America. I pray that we never will be. But no matter what side of the fence you are on in America today your right to speak, act, and believe however you believe is cause for what can only be deemed hatred. If you believe in the policies of Trump, then there are millions of Americans who would shout with anger the vilest of insults at you. There have even been acts of violence. Yet, if you believe what the Democrat House is selling, then you too are likely to hear shouts of anger and derision aimed at you. Our country had a Civil War that was anything but civil. I pray we never have such a thing in our country again. But the word “civil” seems to have less and less meaning in America 2019.

            I will not lie to you. I have my beliefs and when they are derided and name calling ensues, then I’m not exactly happy about it. I get angry too. But I’m angrier with how people treat each other in our country today than anything else. I recently posted a statement of facts regarding our lawmakers in Washington. It was not my opinion or belief. It was simply a statement of fact regarding the make-up of our lawmakers. It was in no way intended to be judgmental or divisive. It simply stated a fact. However, it offended someone. Good grief and then some. When facts are offensive simply because they are factual, then we have a real problem. I am pro-America. I am conservative, but I am NOT registered with any party. I vote my conscience. Is this not a basic right in America anymore? If you believe that someone should be shut-up or vilified simply because they don’t believe the way that you do, then YOU are the problem. I’ve lived long enough now to have seen a few things. I lived through the Vietnam era with all of the protests. I lived through Nixon and Watergate. I lived through the Clintons and all that went with them. I survived 8 years of Obama. I survived over 40 consecutive years of a Democrat controlled House and Senate. I, along with the rest of our nation, have suffered through these past few years as an American president has been continuously attacked and at times has been his own worst enemy simply by opening his mouth to speak. I can only pray that as I approach those “golden years” that they will still yield some gold. I wish for our country a unity. But I’m just not sure it can happen now. We are so divided and at odds with each other that it’s like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Think about all the good we could accomplish if we would dial back the rhetoric and listen to each other rather than shouting so loud that the other’s voice can’t be heard. The truth is I believe we are ourselves now in the midst of a “mortal storm”. People talk about love a lot, but there’s talk and then there’s walk. We’ll never get through the mortal storm by talking at each other. We must talk with each other and we must walk with each other, arm and arm, through the mortal storm that we now face together. The alternative is untenable.

Christmas Vacation 1966

            Christmas vacation when I was a kid was almost as much about being out of school as Christmas. Well, maybe. But Mom was always trying to find things for us to do that would keep us out of her hair. 1966 was no different. One of my favorite things about the week leading up to Christmas that year was that I had truly become a diehard pop and rock music fan. Oh, I had liked a lot music before that including bands such as Herman’s Hermits, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Animals, The Monkees, and so forth. I had been an Elvis Presley fan to some degree, but as nutty as it may sound, I kind of considered him and “old guy”. I had seen many of his old movies on TV and enjoyed most of them, but I really hadn’t paid much attention to him. Well, his latest movie was released on December 14, 1966. Just in time for kids to go see it during Christmas vacation. We had a theater not far away (I would end up working there for about 8 months in 1973) that was going to show that new movie. In those days, movies didn’t stay at theaters for weeks at a time unless they were huge hits such as “The Sound of Music”. They pretty much were there for a week and then gone. Sometimes they came back as a second feature. Yeah, in those days you got two movies for the price of one ticket.

            That movie was “Spinout”. I had already fallen deeply madly in-love with Shelley Fabares from her days on “The Donna Reed Show” and an earlier Elvis movie that she also starred in. My aunt dropped me and my cousin off at the theater about 2 o’clock one day to watch two movies. There was “Spinout” and another Elvis movie from earlier that year called “Frankie and Johnny”. It was “Spinout” that I was most interested in watching. The Oak Village Theater was a big theater compared to the theaters of today. It had a capacity of about 800 people and on that day, it was nearly full. The ticket price was 50 cents unless you wanted to pay an extra 50 cents to sit in the section with seats that rocked. I had been given $2 for the outing. I bought a regular ticket which left me with $1.50 for snacks. That was a fortune in those days. Candy bars were a dime. A soda was a dime. Popcorn was 15 cents. The fact of the matter was I would have some money left over. In fact, the plan was to have enough money left over to buy a 45-rpm record. We watched the movie and I fell in love with Shelley all over again. Elvis was cooler than usual (in my 11-year-old opinion) mainly because of the cars he drove in the movie. We watched the second movie and by 5:30 it was time for my aunt to pick us up. We had a great time.

            Fast-forward to June of 1968. My old pal Darwin Trevena and I went to see Elvis’ current release, called “Speedway”, at Garden Oaks Theater in the Heights area of Houston, Texas. The second feature? You guessed it. “Spinout”. Darwin was always a huge Elvis fan, much more so than me to be honest, but we both enjoyed the double feature.

            Back to December of 1966. That $1.15 was burning a hole in my pocket and there were a couple of records that I wanted. Well, more than a couple, but I was going to be lucky to afford two. A 45-rpm record cost about .75 cents with tax in those days. That meant I was going to need another .35 cents. So, I got on my bike and rode down to an area where they were building some new houses. The main road was a boulevard of sorts. Two lanes on each side with a deep ditch between the two directions. I had a basket on my bike, and I started looking for soda pop bottles. There were plenty to find. I had that basket filled up in no time and when I cashed them in at the grocery store down from our house, I had another .45 cents. The next day I went with my mother to the Memorial City Mall. The big store in the mall was the Sears. I made my way upstairs to where stereos and records were sold and began my search for the two records that I would buy. There were so many good ones to choose from. My sister Barbara had already bought “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys, so no need to spend my money for it and my other sister, Debbie, had bought “Last Train To Clarksville” by The Monkees and “Dandy” by Herman’s Hermits. Some of the choices included “Mellow Yellow” by Donovan, “Lady Godiva” by Peter and Gordon, “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra, “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians, and “Talk Talk” by The Music Machine. But when it came time to pay the clerk, I had two other records in my hands. They were “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudevillian Band and “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by Royal Guardsmen. I suppose if I had been 16 instead of 11 the choices might have been different, but in the end, I would buy all of those songs more than once. First on 45 rpm’s, then on albums, cassettes, CD’s, and for the last 15 years or so MP3’s. All of that fun, two movies and snacks, plus two new records and it wasn’t even Christmas yet!

Christmas Memories - 1983, 1986, and 1990

            1983 – It got very cold that year. Down to 8 degrees at the farm. I felt like a roast on a rotisserie. I would stand in front of the old wood stove with my back to it and then turn around with my front to it until my previously warm backside got cold again. Then repeat. We had a great Christmas Eve with my family and spent the night nice and warm in a motel given there just wasn’t room for everyone at the farm. Christmas morning, we drove the 90 miles over to my wife’s parent’s home to spend Christmas Day and night with them. My ex-mother-in-law was very big on stocking stuffers. I could usually count on a big orange, a big apple, some pecans, a pair of socks, and then some kind of candy. It was still quite cold when we got there, and she had already filled the stockings that hung from the fireplace mantle. After another Christmas dinner, we had our present exchange. The stockings always came last. I received a quilted vest that would be all the craze in two years due to Marty McFly would wear one like it in “Back To The Future”. It came time for the stockings, and I got mine and started to check things out. Sure enough there was the regular fruit and nuts (Oh, I’m sorely tempted with that) and a pair of socks and then there was the blob. That’s what I called the thoroughly melted bag of Hershey’s Kisses. There was just no eating that chocolate due to the aluminum foil wrappers were embedded in the melted candy from the heat of the fireplace. It was travesty, is what it was!

            1986 – This was the first Christmas that both of our kids were old enough to really enjoy Christmas. Unfortunately, I needed to work that Christmas Eve. I was working a part-time job delivering pizzas. I volunteered because we needed the money so bad. We didn’t get paid much by the company. The hourly minimum wage, 50 cents per pizza delivered for the usage of our personal cars, and whatever tips that we might get. Generally speaking, the tips could make or break things. Good tips meant we actually got a profit for ourselves. Bad or no tips meant barely breaking even for the cost of gas, insurance, and labor. I had volunteered to work Christmas Eve thinking that the tips would be great. Everyone would be in the Christmas spirit. Uh-huh. Apparently, people who called for pizza delivery on Christmas Eve were infected with the bah-hum-bug. I started working at 5 p.m. and by 9 p.m. it appeared the rush was over. Then I got a big pie order. You always hoped for those because it usually meant there would be a big tip. The order was for 6 pizzas! As I’m driving to deliver them, visions of $5 or $10 tips filled my head. I got to the house and there were several cars parked there. It was very nice brick home with a manicured lawn. I got the pizzas and rang the doorbell. A woman of about 30 answered the door and shouted to someone to come help with the pizzas. A couple of teenagers came and took the 6 boxes away. The lady handed me a check for the pizzas, and I check to make sure it was the correct amount. There was no tip on the check, nor did she hand me any cash for a tip. My face must have given away my disappointment because just as she was about to close the door her eyes flew open and she said, “Oh! A Tip!” She looked around her and there on a table near the door was a candy dish with, you guessed it, Hershey’s Kisses. She grabbed two of the chocolate delights and handed them to me and said, “Merry Christmas!” as she closed the door. Well, I was so embarrassed and yet somewhat miffed that I just dropped the candy on the ground and left. I told the manager I was going home when I got back. On the drive back to the store I thought about the time with my kids that I had missed while delivering pizzas. It just wasn’t worth it. The kids were asleep when I got home, but I went into each of their rooms and sat beside them petting their hair, giving them REAL kisses, and thanking God for them. The next morning the looks on their faces when they came into the living room to see the presents, however meager they might have seemed to me, were priceless. We played together for a little while and then got ready to go to my parent’s house for Christmas dinner. Perhaps one of the reasons I love seeing my grandkids on Christmas is the vicarious do-over with my kids that I get. I get to give my grandkids presents and enjoy them just the way I did with their parents.

            1990 – I had graduated from Houston Baptist University in the summer of that year. But getting a job was a longer process than I had hoped. But I started a new job the first week of December. It meant that we would have money for Christmas. My Children were 5 and 6 years- old. It was the first Christmas of their lives that we had enough money to actually get them some nice presents. No, there was no pony or a trip to Disneyworld, but the presents were things that they really wanted. I had a great time going Christmas shopping with my wife. We hired one of the youths at our church to babysit and we went out to dinner and then shopping. The one thing that my daughter wanted the most was a kitchen playset. We found one perfect for her. My son was into everything having to do with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We found some of the figures that he didn’t have and then splurged on a TMJT Blimp! No kidding. My son was also into the TMJT trading cards and I found a big package of them. We also got my daughter a set of play dishes for her new play kitchen. Then there were the usual presents that included some new clothes and stocking stuffers. I cannot begin to tell you how much I treasure the memory of putting that kitchen playset together and watching my daughter delight in it. She must have fixed me 10 cups of tea and a couple of dozen cookies that we shared! I also had a great time putting together the blimp for my son and there was plenty of time for us to look over his TMJT cards that I read the info on the back to him. It was a great Christmas.

Christmas Memories - Part 3 - 1980 - The Love Between a Father and a Son

            1980 – About a year prior to the Christmas of 1980 I accepted an offer to go to work for a company located in Dallas. The job went fairly well for about 6 months, but there were rumblings that the owner was in trouble and the company in jeopardy. By June of 1980 things had gotten bad. The last paycheck for that month bounced. There was a mass exit of employees. The manager who hired me along with the assistant manager resigned and ultimately started a business together. Two other main employees, both accountants, also resigned. I had made friends with one of our customers and he knew that things were going badly at the company. He offered me a sub-contract job that would last for a couple of months. I accepted. A bird in hand etc. By December of 1980 I was still doing sub-contract work for him, but things had slowed down to a crawl. I was barely making any money. We had moved from Irving, Texas to Garland, Texas (both are in the Dallas metroplex) so that I could be closer to where the jobs were. My wife had left her job and wasn’t working at the time. It was our plan to turn things around in January. I would seek a permanent position and if that meant having to move back to Houston, then so be it. My wife was willing to get a job as well, but it made sense to wait until after the holidays.

            We didn’t have much money for presents that year. We had decided to not buy anything for each other in order to save money. My wife was making homemade craft gifts for several of our loved ones. I started working on a recording project that I wanted to present to my Dad for Christmas. I didn’t have the greatest recording equipment, but the idea was doable. I wanted to record an “album” of songs that my Dad had always sung for us growing up. Most of them were country and western. These included some classic country hits such as “San Antonio Rose”, “Bouquet of Roses”, “Oh Baby Mine”, “Walking the Floor Over You”, “Pistol Packing Mama”, “Hey Good Looking”, “Detour”, “King of the Road”, and a rocking version of “In The Mood”. I spoke between some of the songs reminiscing about all the times that I had listened as Dad sang these songs and played his old 1929 Martin guitar. I gave a heartfelt dedication at the beginning and put it on tape that I loved Dad very much. The whole project was from the heart and then some. I finished the project in about two weeks.

            The weekend before Christmas I took my wife to her parents to spend the week with them. I would join them on Christmas Eve. I had a couple of jobs to finish on Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday afternoon I was sitting in my truck working when I felt a slight “tickle” in my throat. Within an hour the tickle had turned into a raging fire. My throat felt like someone had taken sandpaper to it. I finished the job and went home to quickly pack and head out for my in-laws. The aspirin that I took didn’t help at all. Three hours later I pulled into my in-laws’ driveway and I was running a fever. I felt horrible. I barely remember Christmas Eve that year. I was very sick. Christmas morning, we drove to my parent’s house to spend Christmas day and night with them. I didn’t even bother trying to eat the Christmas meal that my mother had cooked. I just went to bed. I got up for a few minutes when it was time to open presents and I watched as Dad opened the box with the cassette copy of the album for him. I have no recollection of any gifts that I might have received.

            The next morning, I was awoken to the sounds of that album being played in my parent’s den. I stumbled into the room and Dad was sitting there listening to the album with Mom. Dad looked at me and there were tears in his eyes. He loved the album. For years to come he played it for anyone who came over to visit. He especially liked the spoken part at the beginning. I would end up having to make him two copies over the years because he wore them out. But on that morning, I was seriously ill. Dad said, “Why don’t you go to our doctor in Tomball? I’ll take you.” I explained that we just didn’t have the money for a doctor’s visit much less a prescription. He wouldn’t have it. He insisted I go and that they would pay the doctor and for any prescription. So, he took me to the doctor. It turned out I had a very bad sinus infection. That was actually good news because if it had been a cold or the flu, there wasn’t any drugs that could help. The doctor gave me a shot of penicillin right there in his office and a prescription. I don’t recall what drug it was, but I was glad to get any help. Six hours later my throat wasn’t hurting. By the time the next morning came around I felt like eating again. I understood why penicillin had been called “the miracle drug”.

            The album gift that I gave my Dad was something that he loved for the rest of his life. About two years before he died, he asked if I could put it on a CD for him so that he could listen to it in his car and home stereo. I was glad to do so. In return, my Dad gave me a great gift that year too. He didn’t think twice about helping me get the medicine that I needed. Even though that was not exactly a great time in my life, the fact is it was a very special Christmas. There was a lot of love in our house when I was growing up and that love only grew as I got older. I had the blessing of having my Dad in my life for another 36 years after that Christmas. Through it all my Dad was a loving father whose heart knew no bounds.

Christmas Memories - Part 2

            1972 – This was my favorite Christmas of the 70’s. In fact, it is my favorite Christmas of so far NOT counting my childhood years of 0-12. There are many reasons it was such a special Christmas. For one thing, I had just started dating the girl that would be my “high-school sweetheart”. That in itself made for a wonderful and exciting time. We also enjoyed one of only two Christmas’s in my life in which we had my cousins from my Dad’s brother’s family visit. My cousin Mark and I were about the same age and we had a great time leading up to Christmas Day. They went back home before Christmas Day, but we had a great time with them leading up to Christmas. Looking back on things, I kind of feel like I was a stalker of sorts! Not really, but I was so smitten with my new love that my cousin Mark and I drove past her house at least half a dozen times. She and her family weren’t home for Christmas, so there was no chance I would be seen. It was a good thing in a way because they lived on a cul de sac. It would have proven awkward had they been home and happened to be outside! I just wanted to see the house that she lived in! I remember some great songs that were hits during that Christmas season. “Do It Again” by Steeley Dan, “Hi Hi Hi” by Paul McCartney and Wings, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins and Messina and “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John come to mind. I remember driving around in my mother’s 1967 Chevrolet Nova with the AM radio blasting out these tunes, Christmas lights everywhere, and the sheer joy of feeling 17. For Christmas that year I received a new wristwatch, my favorite cologne “Wild Country”, and a Remington “Hot Comb” which was great for my long hair. It was that Christmas that I first became known in my family for giving presents that were “different”. I gave my mother a huge candle housed in an actual 12” diameter piece of a tree including the bark still on it. She was not at all sure what to think. My sister had gotten on a decorating kick with frogs. Their guest bathroom had every kind of frog related thing you could imagine. I was at a flea market and antique mall in Houston one day and found the perfect gift for Debbie and Don. It was a huge ceramic frog. It would fit perfect on top of the commode in the bathroom. It was painted green and sported a grin. However, she refused to put it on the commode because someone said it felt like they were being watched while answering nature’s call. It ended up on a table on the other side of the sink. Christmas 1972 was a great Christmas and then some.

                                          

 

            1975 – This was another great Christmas. I was 20-years-old at the time. I honestly couldn’t tell you what gifts that I may have received. Giving gifts had become more fun by then. I had been dating the girl that I would end-up marrying a year later. We had been dating for about 5 months. I gave her a life-sized Saint Bernard that included a barrel around its neck that was also a piggy bank. I must admit that I was a tad on the embarrassed side walking from the toy store to my car. Why? Because the store was inside Memorial City Mall and it meant I had to walk through the mall carrying this huge stuffed animal. There were a few snickers along the way, but it was worth it. My sisters and I gave my parents a very nice slide projector. I still have it now and it still works. All of our wedding pictures were taken with slide film and Mom and Dad wanted to be able to see them. For several Christmas’s after that slide film was used for special occasions. I was working part-time at K-mart in the photo department at the time and I got the slide projector with a small discount. It was a great Christmas and life hadn’t taken any left turns yet.

 

                                 

 

            1978 – This Christmas was the first Christmas for my nephew Stephen. He was the first of my parent’s four grandchildren. He didn’t have a clue what was going on given he was only 5 months old, but the adults all enjoyed having a child at Christmas. I had been married for over two years by then which meant that we had to share Christmas at two places instead of one. The good news was that my family had a tradition of Christmas Eve being the big event. A Christmas feast with cousins and aunts and uncles, watching “White Christmas” together, and the opening of Christmas presents were all highlights. My wife’s family had a tradition of doing all of that on Christmas Day. So, it meant there wasn’t any problem with scheduling. Probably the best part of that Christmas was a very simple thing. We left my parent’s house on Christmas Eve after the presents were opened. It was about 11 o’clock. We had decided to drive up to her parent’s home near Somerville, Texas so that we could be there for Christmas morning. My wife was very tired and quickly fell asleep as I drove through the dark. I had the radio playing softly and listened to classic Christmas music including “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, “Jingle Bell Rock”, “White Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and a new Christmas song that has now become a classic by The Eagles. It was actually a cover of a 1950’s record but done only the way The Eagles could do it. Christmas just isn’t Christmas to me now without hearing “Please Come Home For Christmas”. As I drove around the newly constructed loop that bypassed downtown Brenham, Texas my eyes were drawn to a beautiful sight. It was the Washington County Courthouse decked out in Christmas lights. It was visible for several miles. I thought about waking Patti up so that she could enjoy the sight but decided not to disturb her slumber. It’s a solitary memory for me.

Christmas Memories - Part 1

            The 12 days of Christmas start today. Time just keeps going faster and faster. When I was young it seemed like it was forever for Christmas to come. I’m at a point now where I feel like last Christmas was just a couple of weeks ago. Well, since this is the first day of Christmas 2019, I wanted to share a few random Christmas memories with you. I’m pretty sure that some of you will have similar memories depending on your age. One thing about me that seems to irritate some people while amazing others, is the way I organize things in my mind. It’s just the way that I am. That said, I will be relating these memories in a chronological order and in three parts. I hope you don’t mind too much.

            1960 – My parents sang in the choir at our church. Every year the choir would have a get together at the church about a week before Christmas. After sharing hot coffee, wassail (no cider though because we were Baptist!), hot chocolate, and some snack cakes, the choir would go into the neighborhood caroling. I was too young to go at 5-years-old, so along with the other children too young to go caroling we stayed at the church and played. That particular year my mother told me that if I was good while they were gone, then she would give me a special treat when we got home. That was perhaps the longest hour or so of my young life up until then. The choir finished caroling and we all loaded into our 1956 Ford Station Wagon. I probably asked my mother 50 times when I would get the special treat. We got home and made our way into the house. Mom took off her coat, hat, and gloves (women dressed up back in those days) and went into the kitchen. She came back with a magic box. I’d never seen one before, but it sure did look interesting. Over the next 50 years or so I would see variations of that box. But for that night it was the first one of its kind that I had ever seen. Mom opened the box and several identical magical and most wonderful things sat there. She took out one for each of us and told us to enjoy. That was my very first chocolate covered cherry. It was love at first bite! The next Christmas a tradition began. We all knew that one of the wrapped presents under the tree was a box of chocolate covered cherries. Yum!

            1962 – Skateboards were all the craze. A variation of the skateboard was a scooter or as some people called them, “Push-Scooter”. It was longer and a bit wider than the skateboards of that era and it included a steering handle about waist high. I sure wanted one of those scooters. But they cost about $15 and we just didn’t have that kind of extra money. However, my father was very good at building things. He built me a scooter out of spare wood that he had and attached a set of metal wheels to it that he bought at Western Auto. Well, it worked OK, but it was far slower than the store-bought scooters with larger rubber wheels and lighter aluminum bodies. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the fact that Dad took the time to make me that wooden scooter, but it just wasn’t able to keep up with the other kids on their scooters. We used to write Santa Claus a letter every year and give him our wish list. I was no fool. I knew it was going to be read by Mom and Dad and that depending on how much money they had to spend that year some of those items would find their way under the Christmas tree. Christmas morning came and I was dancing like a barefoot man on a hot sidewalk. My sisters and I made our way into the living room and sitting there beside the tree was a bright red store-bought scooter. The dog gone thing even had a hand brake on it! It was the most amazing thing in the world is what it was.

            1965 – We were going to have Christmas at my grandparent’s farm that year. Mom had not been able to get everything wrapped yet, so we were banished to the back of the house while Dad loaded the luggage and the Christmas presents into the trunk of our car. The journey to the farm began like as usual. We sang some songs together, played the “Alphabet Game” with billboards, and Mom read us a story or two. We weren’t far from the farm when it happened. A loud pop and then a thump-thump-thump as the now rear flat tire slapped the road. This is where things got kind of interesting. All of the luggage and all of those unwrapped presents were on top of the spare tire and wheel. My sisters and I were told to walk down the road in front of the car about 100 yards and to NOT look back. Goodness gracious that was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It was like there was a magnet in my head and I fought the urge to turn around with all my might. Dad had to transfer the presents into the back seat of the car while he changed the tire. After changing the tire, he then had to transfer everything back into the trunk. I can only imagine his frustration. Meanwhile, Mom worried about the cost of a new tire. Mom’s do that sort of thing. To this day, my sister Debbie and I talk about that flat tire. She’s the only one left that I can reminisce with over such memories now.

            1969 – I think we were driving my mother and my aunt crazy. We were “warting” them to death! Christmas was still 5 days away and me and my cousins were out of school already. My older sisters were not a problem. In fact, Barbara was not there that Christmas as she was on a special trip from college. My sister Debbie was a senior in high school and, given she was a goody-two-shoes anyway, she wasn’t a problem. My younger cousin Diana was only 7-years-old and she was too young to ship off to some place or other. My father and my Uncle Victor loved to fish. They were seriously addicted to fishing. I never quite understood the fishing thing. It was boring. That said, it was decided that my Dad, Uncle Victor, me, and my cousins David and Phil would all go up to Lake Somerville for some fishing and camping. As I recall, I was torn between wanting to hang out with my cousins and NOT wanting to camp and fish. However, the decision wasn’t up to me. It was “decided” that we men would be going and that was that. Apparently, none of the adults involved in this decision watched the weather reports. When we left for the lake it was a nice and balmy 70 degrees. Short sleeve weather. All the grown men of today would be wearing baggy shorts. Dad wore khakis and Victor wore one of those new-fangled one-piece coveralls. It wouldn’t be long before Dad wore those things and you were likely to see him wearing one for the next decade. We got to the lake and set-up the big tent. It was a huge thing. It even had two rooms. It took all hands-on deck to get that thing set-up. After the tent was set-up my Dad and Uncle Victor launched Victor’s bass boat and headed out to catch what fish that they could. We were near one of the marinas and my cousins and I went to check it out. They had worms. All kinds of worms. They had minnows. Right about then I was wishing for a TV that was airing reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” and their Minnow. No luck. You could pay a couple of dollars and catch fish from inside the marina. They had these big tanks with fish in them. I’m surprised they weren’t in barrels and we didn’t use a .22 rifle. You know? Like shooting fish in a barrel? Then the blue-northern came through. The temperature dropped down into the 20’s in about an hour. My Dad and Uncle just about turned blue getting back from the other side of the lake. The tent did NOT come with central heat. In fact, it didn’t have heat of any kind. If we had started a fire to get warm outside, then we would have frozen before the fire got going well. The hardiest of us all was my cousin Phil. Hey, the guy lives in Alaska now so I guess it was just meant to be. Phil still made his way down to the lake and fished. I don’t recall him catching anything, but he loved every minute of it. David and I stayed in the tent out of the cold wind, wrapped in blankets, and played cards on the folding cots we had. After a day and a half of turning blue, my Dad and uncle decided we might as well go back home. We nearly froze taking down the tent and loading everything in the truck. That’s when I noticed something. My cousin David had developed the reddest nose that I had ever seen. Me being me I started singing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and pointing at David. This was not exactly the brightest thing I ever did. David was two years older than me and a high-school football player. He had a set of weights in his room and so far as I was concerned, he was like Bruce Willis in “Unbreakable”. David lifted me up off the ground and said to my face, “What was that?” I begged his pardon and I believe it was only by the grace of Uncle Victor that I didn’t get broken like “Glass”. In the end though, we had fun and I was very happy to get back home. Mom and Aunt Velma, not so much.

Cool Water from a Tin Dipper

            The nearest highway to me is about 4 miles from my house. It’s actually the nearest paved road as well. It’s a Farm to Market road. Its handle is FM 230 and it isn’t a long road. It totals about 29 miles. It goes from Lovelady, Texas to Trinity, Texas. There’s a much more direct route, State Highway 19, but there was a reason FM 230 was built. About 16 miles west of Lovelady is a rather infamous State Prison known as the Eastham Unit. It’s a work farm as well and it first opened in 1917. It gets its notoriety for a couple of main reasons. First, it’s been known as one of the toughest prisons in Texas. Tough is another word for hard time. But perhaps one of the main reasons it is notorious is due to its most notorious prisoner. That would be Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame. Clyde was about 20-years-old when he was sent to the prison. It was not a good time for him. Due to treatment that he received at the hands of other prisoners and some not-so nice prison guards he became a hardened criminal.

            During the time that Clyde was there the road to the prison was a dirt wagon track. Oh, cars and trucks used the road, but it was about what you would think it was. It was muddy and rutted during the rainy months and dusty and dry the rest of the time. My grandparent’s farm is/was about 13 miles away from the prison. As the crow flies it was closer. Perhaps about 8 or 9 miles. There wasn’t much reason to go down that road back then other than there was a small town called Weldon which at one time was quite prosperous. But Lovelady was closer and had more to offer as well as the train went through and Old Highway 45, later renamed 19 when Interstate 45 came into being. My grandparents talked about the time Clyde was part of a prison break. By the time Bonnie and Clyde were at their worst, reports of their murders and robberies were big news on the radio.

            It wasn’t until 1945 that FM 230 first came into being. The initial 3.5 miles were from Lovelady going west. Over the next 15 years the highway was built piecemeal until it was finished in 1960. For my grandparent’s those first 3.5 miles were a great aid. That portion extended to just past the county road that my grandparents used to go home. It made life much easier for them. Hauling cotton to the Co-Op Gin in Lovelady was much easier as well as buying groceries, banking, fuel, and even a candy store that is now famous and relocated to Galveston. When the highway department was building that first section, they hit an artesian spring. To this day there is a large tank (that’s what we call ponds here in East Texas!) that is fed by that spring.

            My grandfather was always interested in such things as that and he had to go check it out. A water sample was taken and sent over to Texas A&M for testing. The results were that the water was very pure and absolutely safe to drink. It was also cold. In those days there was no such thing as bottled water on every corner. Well, Grandpa used to like to stop and get a cool drink of water where a spigot and some piping had been built to give the road crews a place to get cool water. As a small child I would go to town with my grandparents and Grandpa always stopped in the heat (no A/C in that old truck) to get a good drink of that cool water. I have memories of being in Grandpa’s 1955 Chevrolet pick-up truck and stopping. It wasn’t fenced in those days and the landowner was more than happy to allow neighbors to stop by. Grandpa carried an old tin dipper in the truck, and I remember well drinking that cool water from the dipper while sitting on Grandpa’s lap. I was about 5 or so.

            Such simple things were the best parts of staying at the farm with my grandparents. About 4 years later an oil company came in and asked if they could do some “sounding” on Grandpa’s farm. When they did, they struck an artesian well right there on the farm. Grandpa was like a kid in a candy store. He installed the pipes and a spigot just like that other one and was so proud to have that well. The tank that is there now and is fed by the spring is the clearest water on the property. About 10 years ago my uncle had the pipes replaced and a new spigot installed. You can still get water there if you want to.

            We need the earth to grow our food. We need air to breathe and to provide power. We need fire to cook and to stay warm. But perhaps we need water most. They say our bodies are made up of about 60% water. Nothing tastes better than water when you are thirsty. I’m reminded of the old Sons of The Pioneers song, “Cool Water”. Grandpa sure liked cool water and so do I. The night sky gives us a view of the Big and Little Dipper. Well, for me, the biggest dipper ever was the tin dipper that I drank out of while sitting on Grandpa’s lap.

Teacher Teacher, I Declare

            As good as my memory is, I don’t actually remember the names of every teacher that I ever had. My elementary teachers are easier to remember mainly because there were much fewer of them. For the most part, I had only one teacher per grade level. The truth is there are only two teachers from my elementary years that I don’t recall their names. We moved from Houston to Bryan, Texas on May 4th of 1963 when I was almost finished with 1st grade. I do not recall the teacher that I had for the last three weeks of first grade. In fact, I have only a few memories of that school. We knew when we moved that we would be moving again within a few months. Mom and Dad were looking for a permanent house to buy and, in the meantime, we moved into a rental house so that Dad could start his new business. Back in those days school didn’t start until after Labor Day. We ended up moving into our permanent house on September 30, 1963. So, I don’t recall the name of my 2nd grade teacher at that first school, a teacher that I only had for about 3 weeks or so. Otherwise, I remember all of my elementary teachers. Fifth grade was a total mess for me. We moved again in November of 1966 and then again in February 1967. So, I ended up going to three schools in 5th grade. Of all the teachers that I had in elementary school there were two that stand out as favorites. One in particular was my very favorite for elementary school.

            Coming in 2nd place was my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Dahlberg. She was a very good teacher. She was much older than most of the teachers that I had. She could easily have been old enough to be my grandmother. I learned a lot from her, and she was a very sweet lady. She didn’t let us get away with much, but she was not mean or so stern that there was little fun in class. My favorite part of that year was our combination of Geography and World History. Our geography book was great. Each chapter was about a particular country or region of the world. We studied Japan, China, India, England, Ireland, Germany, Russia, and perhaps my favorite, Egypt. What was really interesting about Egypt was it coincided with the building of the Aswan Dam. We got to watch current newsreels about the building of the dam and the events surrounding the preservation of ancient buildings and monuments that would end up being under water. It was way cool. My absolute favorite elementary teacher was my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Laster. I have no idea how old she was, but I would guess she was in her late 20’s at the time. She was a fantastic teacher. She was very sweet, very smart, and she genuinely cared about her students. I have no negative memories at all regarding her or 3rd grade. My favorite part of her class was when she read to us. We went through a couple of books that year. She would read a chapter a day. It was a quiet time and for me it was a time to live the stories. The one that I remember the best was “Pinocchio”. It was full of adventure, laughter, and love.

            Well, I suppose everyone had a teacher or two that they had a crush on. My 8th grade year presented me with my two favorite teachers of Junior High School. Both in the same year! Sixth and seventh grade were pretty much a nightmare. I had some good teachers, but some pretty bad teachers too. That was something new for me. With the exception of a bullying incident, 8th grade was a great year for me. The bully was one sick kid. And I do mean sick. If he is still alive today, then he is likely in prison or something like that. I’m not going to talk about him though. It was what it was and before it was over, I persevered. Back to those two teachers. The teacher that I had a crush on was Mrs. Sillivan. My memory of her was that she was very pretty. She was also very young. I think our class was her first year of teaching. So, she was probably only about 22 years-old. Now keep your mind out of the gutter when I say this, but she wore these pleated skirts that just drove me nuts. I remember one of them was purple. I think the deal with that was I had already had a crush on Shelley Fabarares from “The Donna Reed Show”, but it was in an Elvis Presley movie that she wore a skirt like that. That movie, “Girl Happy”, is my favorite Elvis movie. (“Viva Las Vegas” is 2nd!) Mrs. Sillavan was my English teacher that year. It was a fun class and my first “girlfriend” was in that class. Yea, we were so cool. We actually held hands a few times!

            My number one teacher in junior high was my 8th grade history teacher. She didn’t let you get away with much, but she genuinely cared about her students and made history come alive. Her name was/is Mrs. Anderson. Of all the teachers that I ever had, she is the only one that is a “friend” on Facebook. She’s still cool 50 years down the road! I don’t know how old she was then, but I’m guessing she was in her late 20’s. She wasn’t a rookie, but she wasn’t jaded either. She was the kind of teacher that made you want to do your best. She was encouraging, learned, inspiring, and all the things you could hope for in a teacher. And, as I recall, she was certainly pretty, which never hurt.

            Now we get to high school. It was a mixed-bag where teachers were concerned. Do I recall the names of every teacher that I had? No, but I remember most of them. The ones that I most remember were either very good or very bad. They ran the gamut. The truth is that I had one teacher in 9th grade that I liked and that I felt cared about me. Tenth grade was basically just OK. No particular teacher or teachers stood out as favorites etc. Eleventh grade was basically about the same. My American history teacher was a good teacher and I liked her, and I did learn a lot from her class. I wrote several long poems about some of our forefathers. I would give her a copy of them, and she loved them. She even read them to the class. The two that I remember best (and still have copies of that my mother typed when she found my hand-written copies and liked them so well) was “Poor George” about George Washington and “The Great Compromiser” about Henry Clay. When a certain former Texas governor made fun of George Bush with her “Poor George” speech, I had a good laugh.

            Onward to my senior year. My favorite teacher of high school my English teacher that year. It was a creative writing class. Mrs. Huckabay was my teacher. I don’t have any idea how old she was. Probably in her late 40’s. But she was about as cool as they get. However, the horn-rimmed glasses needed updating! She took a great interest in my writing and helped me learn some of the basics with regards to dialogue. She also was very encouraging about my songwriting. She used lyrics from some of the current songs as a way to express creative writing. It caused me to start writing about things other than simple boy-girl love songs.

            Well, let’s recap. My favorite Elementary teacher was 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Laster. My favorite junior high teacher was Mrs. Anderson. My favorite high school teacher was Mrs. Huckabay. What’s my point in telling you all of this? It’s simply to say that teachers were extremely important to me growing-up. I am thankful to have had these great teachers who intersected with my then young life and sparked interest, inspiration, and were influential in helping to lay the groundwork for my life to come. To be frank, I could never be a teacher. I’m just not patient enough and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a bit too thin skinned to survive. I also believe that teaching is a calling. It should never be viewed as “just a job”. But even though I am not teaching material, I do think that all of us, myself included, can be teachers in our own way. I love to read to my grandkids. Now that I am retired, I would be interested in reading to children in a program at a library etc. But that’s for another day. If you know a teacher, then thank him or her for being there for so many kids’ year in and year out. Thanks to all the teachers that I’ve ever had, Mrs. Anderson that especially includes you, and thanks to the people who I have known that spent their working life as teachers. Two of them were my sisters. Barbara, who passed away in 2018, was a music and English teacher. Debbie taught elementary school for 40 years. Now, go thank a teacher.

Herman's Hermits, Balsa Wood Airplanes, a Soda Fountain, and Dugan's Drugs

            There was a family owned drugstore two blocks away from the house we lived in when I was 11-13. It was called “Dugan’s Drugs”. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a part of a vanishing breed. When I think back to those years and that store, I realize that it had an important part of my young life. The first LP record that I ever bought I bought at that store. It was “The Best of Herman’s Hermits”. It cost me $3 and was well worth it. I still have that album. Not a replacement of it, but that exact album. Perhaps the best part of Dugan’s Drugs was their old-fashioned soda fountain. They sold ice cream, malts and shakes, Coke floats, and assorted other treats. Sometimes my parents would send me down to get everyone a malt at Dugan’s. They had cardboard carriers that would hold all of them for the quick walk back home.

            The first time I ever tasted a new candy called “Sweet Tarts” was after buying a roll at Dugan’s. One of the things that I used to like to do was go to the store and watch the pneumatic tube flash by on the ceiling. You turned in your prescription at the front of the store and it was sent back to the druggist. He would then send the medicine back to the front when it was ready. I would go in there with my mother and while we waited for the prescription to be ready, I would look around the store. There was a rack of comic books, an aisle with socks and gloves and the like, and an aisle with clock radios, portable record players, and other small household appliances such as toasters and can openers. And, there was a rack of balsa wood airplanes. Those airplanes provided me with hours of fun when I was a kid. The small gliders cost a whopping 5 cents. A larger glider was a dime. They had several other models and some of them included a propeller that was driven by a rubber band. You had to put them together, but they were easy to assemble. I could always scrounge up a nickel or a dime to buy one of those planes. The propeller ones were a little more. Perhaps a quarter.

            I remember one day I was looking at some of the comic books and a girl from my class came into the store. She said hello and I thought it was the sweetest sound in the world. Her name was Penny. I rode the school bus with Penny throughout junior and senior high school. I have no idea what became of her after we graduated. Sometime in 1969 Dugan’s sold his store to a big named chain. The store was remodeled, and the soda fountain removed. Within a couple of years, they closed the store in lieu of a new store down the street. I didn’t miss Dugan’s until I got older. But I think what I miss about that store is all of the things that went away with it. Most of us buy our prescriptions at big chains now. Heck, we can get them via mail, at the grocery store, at department stores etc. I’m sure that there are soda fountains somewhere still, but I haven’t a clue where one might be and it likely is owned and operated by someone who was not even born when soda fountains were popular. LP’s are coming back, but even so they cost a lot more today. I have a couple of record players, but they are cheap compared to the great stereo systems that I once owned. I could buy an expensive component system today if I wanted to, but I just don’t want to spend the kind of money it would take to do so. The only place that I know of with pneumatic systems is my bank. But I don’t really go there very often. I don’t have to in today’s world. But that’s another story. Perhaps the biggest thing I miss from Dugan’s and those days was knowing the pharmacist and owner of the store personally. The government laws and rules that have come into place in the last 50 years have made it very difficult to start and run a business. It seems that it takes a board of directors, a CEO, and a whole bunch of managers, lawyers, and specialist to run a company today. The closest thing that I know of to that old way of doing business is the barber that I go to. Actually, even that has changed in the past few years. I started going to him about 12 years ago after I helped him with a claim on his car. He retired about 5 years ago, but he had a couple of partners who have continued to run the shop. He passed away from cancer about two years ago. But I can still go to that shop, a small shop with three chairs, I know the barbers by name, and they know how I like my hair cut. They only take cash and that’s OK by me. I’m sure it keeps the overhead down. I tried one of those sport barber shop chains when I first moved up to the country. They had one in Huntsville. Still do, I suppose. But it was so impersonal. All of the “barbers” are in their 20’s and they’ve got a completely different idea on what a haircut is than I do. And what’s with this getting a massage with your haircut?

            Well, as time continues its march onward, I think of places like Dugan’s Drugs and remember a time when things weren’t as complicated and convoluted as they are today. Maybe I’m just getting old. The fact is there are much worse things than getting old. To anyone young reading this you’ll understand someday.

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