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James R. Stout


Wild Thang and The Buick

            The neighborhood that I grew up in had some interesting characters. But hands, no, make that paws, down the most interesting character in the neighborhood was an orange tabby cat that was strapped with the name, “Wild Thang”. Let me tell you, that cat was indeed wild. He had little to no use for humans and especially humans under the age of about 20. I was in that group when I first encountered Wild Thang. I was about 12 at the time. Wild Thang was “owned” by a widow lady across the street. Heck, he might have been her deceased husband come back to haunt her. He was a rather large cat, not fat, just large. At some point in time someone must have tried to strangle Wild Thang because his meow was more like the sound of frog with laryngitis imitating a cat. He was loud too. No dog felt safe in the neighborhood when they heard his meowing and screeching.

            I’m convinced that Wild Thang really did have 9 lives. One day I decided to go out on the front porch and enjoy the late afternoon sun. Apparently, Wild Thang was exploring my mother’s azalea bushes by the porch and when I stepped outside, I startled him something fierce. First, he screeched and then he took off like his tail was on fire. He ran across the fairly busy street on the side of our house and I watched in horror as a great big Buick with a giant chrome grin plowed into Wild Thang as he was in mid-flight trying to get across the road. It was like slow motion. The car smacked into Wild Thang on the side of the head, his head nearly did a 360 degree turn and he seemed to look right at me with a look of “This is nuts!” on his face, and then several teeth went flying out of his mouth and clinked against the chrome bumper. The driver of the car threw on his brakes and stopped just as Wild Thang came to a stop from rolling several times. I figured he was dead, but if he was, then his next life took over because he jumped up screeched at the car, and then ran into the widow lady’s yard and hid in the bushes. It was the darndest thing I had ever seen.

            This is where the story gets even stranger. About two days later I got off the bus from school and walked up the sidewalk to our porch and there was Wild Thang just sitting on the porch. To be honest, I was a little scared of him at that point. But he was just sitting there looking at me. As I stepped up on the porch and started to unlock the door, he slowly walked over to me and rubbed up against my leg. What on Earth? He had never done anything like that before and so far, as I was aware, had never allowed anyone to pet him. But here he was begging for some loving. Well, I do love animals and I especially like cats and dogs. So, I sat down, and old Wild Thang crawled up into my lap and started to purr. I must have sat there about 15 minutes petting him and he was just purring. Finally, I had to get up and go in and call my mother at work to let her know I was home from school. But for the next month or so Wild Thang was usually waiting for me when I got home from school. We became great friends. Then one day he wasn’t there. Then the next and then the next day after that. In fact, I never saw him again. Maybe he found a lady cat or maybe he had been on his 9th life and something happened. I have no idea. But I learned something from Wild Thang. First, you don’t judge someone based on how they look or sound or some physical trait that they may have. Second, when someone offers you love, and I mean love in a pure sense of the word, you return the gesture with some of your love. Finally, you don’t listen to what someone has to say about someone else until you’ve spent time with that someone else. All the kids in the neighborhood made fun of Wild Thang and I suspect a few of them were not nice to him. Prior to that day with the Buick, I had tried to pet Wild Thang, but he always shied away. I’m glad that we had some time to become friends. To this day, I have a special place in my heart for orange tabbies. It pays to be kind and it pays to show understanding and love.

 

The Parable of the Millennial

            A 24-year-old man walked into a game store to look for a new game system that he was interested in buying. He knew something was amiss immediately. There was a table set-up in the front of the store with an old man standing behind it. On the table sat a plastic container like the kind that candy, or cookies might be held. The most startling thing was the dozen bodies of other young adults strewn around the table. None of them were alive. The man started to back out of the store, but then he noticed a large sign affixed to the front of the table. It read, “DO NOT REACH INTO THE PLASTIC TRAY!”

            The young man was intrigued and walked up to the table and looked into the tray. There was nothing there except for a few crumbs left over from whatever had been in the tray. That’s when he noticed several pieces of candy lying about on the floor amongst the dead bodies. None had been eaten or even had a bite taken out them. The young man looked at the old man and said, “What gives?”

            “Hello, young man. I’m here to explain this to you if you will listen.”

            “OK. So, what’s the deal?”   

            “First, have you noticed the small sign on the wall behind me?”

            The young man looked up and noticed the sign for the first time. It read, “If you reach into the plastic container, then you’ll be rewarded with free food, free housing, free transportation, and basically everything that you could want for free – for life!

            “Well, that sounds good to me!” the young man said enthusiastically.

            “I kind of figured you’d feel that way.” Said the old man. “But let me tell you what the sign doesn’t say. There’s a high possibility that you will die if you put your hand into the plastic container. If you die, then you obviously won’t get all that free stuff.”

            The young man bent over and looked closely into the plastic container and with the exception of a couple of crumbs there was nothing in it at all.

            “Is this some kind of trick or joke?” he asked.

            “No joke, young man. It is what it is. You don’t have to touch the container or the crumbs at all. Just put your finger into the container. That’s all you have to do. But I’m here to make sure you know the risks of doing that. I strongly suggest you leave immediately without going near the container.” Explained the old man.

            The young man stood there for a moment and looked from the container to the old man and back to the container. Finally, he looked at the old man, gray-haired and wrinkled and unsteady on his feet as he was and thought to himself the old dude was nuts. Either that or he was just stupid. Then the young man grinned a big grin and shook his head.

            “If there’s a chance that I can get all that stuff free for life, then I’ll take it. Nothing can happen to me simply by sticking my finger into the container and not touching anything.” He said.

            Then, without another word he reached down and put his finger into the container and then back out. He grinned when nothing happened.

            “See, you old fool. I’m fine. Now where’s my . . .”

            The old man watched as the young man dropped dead and landed on top of a couple of other young, but dead bodies. The old man shook his head and said, “Well, I tried telling him what would happen, but he knew better than me, I suppose.”

            About that time another young man walked into the store.

Vroom! Vroom! 4+6=2

            Most likely there will always be cars that are intentionally loud. When it comes to the cars of today, things have changed since I was a kid. They were definitely louder when I was a kid. Not obsessively so, but the design of exhaust systems and engines was completely different. I remember sitting on the front porch of my grandparent’s farmhouse and you could hear a car or truck coming from a long way off. They weren’t roaring with loud exhausts though. It was mostly just the sound of a typical engine and the ebb and flow of rpm’s as the driver drove down the dirt roads. The same as it is today, he would have to slow down for holes and washouts only to have to speed up on the smoother parts of the road. It got to where you could tell what kind of vehicle or, at the least, what kind of engine the approaching vehicle possessed. In those days, a great many of them were small 6-cylinder engines. Perhaps a Chevy 250 cubic inch “in-line” 6-cylinder or, if the owner sprung for the beefier models, perhaps a small V-8 283 cubic inch, 327, or 350. My father was a “Ford Man” in those days and one of the reasons was because he said that Ford vehicles were quieter than Dodge or Chevy. Given his extremely sensitive hearing (he had incredible hearing all of his life and even at the age of 93), I’m not surprised that he could hear things that mere mortals couldn’t!

            But we would sit on the porch and you knew a vehicle was coming from a mile or more away. I’m sure that some of that had to do with there was nothing in the way such as buildings or city noise to block out the sound. But, by no means was that the whole story. I live here in the country within a mile of the old farmhouse. If anything, it is quieter here than it was when I was a kid. Many of the houses that once dotted the landscape are gone. When I sit on my front porch, I mostly hear birds and the sound of the wind in the trees. When it comes to cars or trucks though, I can’t hear them like we did when I was a kid. The technology of automobiles has improved greatly in the last 55 or 60 years. Frankly, it’s a little unnerving how easily a vehicle can show up at my place and I don’t hear it until it’s at my entry gate. And that’s only if I’m sitting on the porch or outside. I don’t hear them at all (except for the occasional county road grader or a tractor with a big diesel) if I’m in the house. I’ll admit that part of that is because I have double-pane windows for additional insulation, but that wouldn’t have stopped me from hearing cars back in the old days. Today’s cars and trucks are very quiet compared to those older vehicles. My brother-in-law drives a 2015 Chevrolet 1500 Z71 truck. I can be sitting on the front porch and not hear him coming until he reaches the front gate. There was a time when I could have thrown a rock that far. Alas, my throwing arm isn’t quite what it once was!

            Sitting here thinking about this subject made me think about how stealthy life in general has become over the years. Especially in the way of letting your beliefs be known. Political correctness is what they call it and it’s an insidious thing. We’ve all been forced to install extremely quiet mufflers on ourselves. The truth be told, if you speak your mind about a given subject, then you’ll likely be labeled for it and the only people with loud exhausts today are people who point out loudly how bad you are for thinking a certain way or having a belief system that they deem politically incorrect. Even in this blog entry I’m having to think hard about what I will or won’t say about the subject. Why? Because I might say something that offends someone who will then start the labeling and make vicious attacks (definitely a double-standard these days) on my character. But you know what? I’m getting old enough now and my time on this earth is growing shorter by the day, that I’m caring less and less if what I believe offends someone. For that matter, why should they be the only ones offended by a belief? Why is it OK for them to be offended by my being Christian and NOT ok for me to be offended by their openly love for evil? I actually had someone on Facebook send me a link for a magazine article by someone I’ve never heard of that claimed all Christians are racists. That’s nuts. And what’s racist anymore? If I disagree with someone who happens to be black, then I’m labeled a racist. That’s nuts too. The truth is I do not judge anyone by the color of their skin. It’s a person’s behavior that I judge. And that judgment isn’t always merely my opinion. Not hardly. I go with two specifics from the Bible. First, the 10 commandments. If they offend you, then you are in for a rude awakening someday. If they seem to be overly wordy or hard for you to grasp (which I can’t see how a reasonably intelligent person couldn’t) then Jesus himself whittled the 10 down to just 2. The first 4 commandments deal with our relationship with God. The remaining 6 deal with how we treat each other or our relationship with each other. Jesus made it easier to understand. In Matthew 22:37 He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He then stated in Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

            In the end, if you exhibit behavior that violates these commandments, then don’t be surprised if I’m not onboard. If it offends you that I’m not onboard with you, then I have one word for you. Tough. I love God and while I fall short at times, I really do try to follow what Jesus said. But I’m going to be one of those old cars. I’m not going to be quiet about my belief in God and my love for Him. You’re going to hear me coming from a long way off. If that offends you, then that’s your problem. It doesn’t mean that I’ll be rude to you or break one of those commandments simply because you don’t believe in them. No, I’m going to do my best to treat people the way that Jesus said that I should, but I’m also not going to let anyone shut me up when it comes to my belief in Jesus. Vroom! Vroom!

The Way I See It

            To those of you read my blog on a regular basis you probably have noticed that for the past three months I haven’t made as many entries as I typically have in the past. I don’t need to tell you that its been nuts lately. There was the pandemic and all that goes with that, but more recently the civil unrest has been the news. “Civil Unrest” doesn’t really cover it though. I’ve made no secret of how old that I am. I turn 65 in three months. There was a time when being that age was considered being “old”. “Old” is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t see an old man in the mirror, but I certainly feel old at times. But I’m not useless. I’m not irrelevant. I’m not a waste of resources. No matter how younger people in their 20’s and 30’s may believe, I am none of those things.

            I’m going to get serious now. America is in very deep trouble. I wish that I could offer you hope of a better day to come. But I honestly don’t see it happening. I have recently read several posts on Facebook and articles in published magazines that are very alarming. At least, they are to people my age and older. The people writing these things have suggested that America can’t come together the way that they believe it should until “the older generation” dies off. One such article all but came out to say that the old people in America today need to just die already. Let me harken back a bit. Until the generation that came of age in the late 50’s and 60’s, previous generations respected those who came before. Older people were looked to for wisdom and guidance because they had lived through things that younger people had not yet experienced. Even that generation that was so vocal in the 60’s didn’t universally go along with the rebellious aspects. Only a small portion of that generation marched and spoke out against the generations that came before. Furthermore, many of those that did rebel in those heady days of the 1960’s eventually got enough mileage on them to realize that they had been wrong and perhaps the older generations were not so dumb as they had believed. In a word, we “matured”. Most of us who might have done a bit of rebelling in our teens and early 20’s got married, got jobs, had families, and came to understand that there are more important things than the “immediate gratifications” that we sought when young. We were also far better education. Now, before some of you take offense at that, read this all the way through before making a judgement. I’m not saying we were more intelligent. I’m not saying that the under 40 crowd of today are stupid. It’s just that they have been fed a steady stream of lies and false teachings since kindergarten. Part of the fault lies with my generation for not stopping it from happening. But the fact is an agenda to deceive young people was put into motion and is unfortunately alive and well as I write this. The very fabric of what made our nation the greatest nation in history has been torn apart by those who wish to push the agenda. Make no mistake about one thing. They are not doing this by mistake or from a false sense of rightness. They are doing it with full knowledge of what they are doing and for one reason only. Power.

            The facts are clear that we as a nation are like a patient on life-support. When a nation built on a faith in God no longer allows the mention of God in our schools or the teachings of the Bible, then the end result is inevitable. We have no hope without God and a faith in His Son, Jesus. A man in his early 30’s, believing that he was enlightened beyond my capabilities, proudly quoted “Religion or God is the opiate of the masses.” I asked him where that came from and he could not say other than he was told it by a professor when he was attending college. I asked him if he had ever heard of Karl Marx. He said he knew the name. I suggested that he do some research on the man and then get back to me. He never brought up the subject again. When a generation quotes communists and places those people into a position of being “great”, then the generation has been corrupted.

            In 1965 you could turn on the TV to a national news program and you got the news. It wasn’t the reporter’s opinions or beliefs. It was what was happening for real. Today’s news programs are as corrupt as they can get. The wagging of the dog is about to scramble the dog’s brain. I don’t want to talk about politics though. I want to talk about what’s right and what’s wrong. There are too many Americans today who believe that they are right, but are either ignorant, blinded, or corrupt. We are at a point in our nation where simply quoting the 10 commandments means nothing to many people. If someone doesn’t believe in God, then they aren’t likely to believe in the Bible. If they don’t believe in the Bible, then quoting it has no effect on their actions. They are going to do what they want to do, and they will do it fully believing that they are right and have the right to do whatever it is that they wish to do. Never has common sense been so uncommon than in America today.

            So, all of this sounds negative to many of you. There are likely a few of you who will stop reading my blog because they don’t want to be “exposed to negative thoughts”. If a patient goes to his doctor and says, “My stomach hurts”, then what should the doctor do? Let’s say he has some tests done and blood analyzed and something alarming is discovered. The doctor tells the patient what the findings are and what can be done about it. If the patient listens to the doctor and does what he suggests, then odds are the patient will get better. But if the patient says, “That’s negative vibes, man, and I can’t handle negative vibes”, and then he doesn’t do what the doctor tells him that he should, the patient is likely in for a rough ride and may well put his very life in jeopardy. Well, America can either do what is necessary to right the ship or we can ignore the Doctor and suffer the consequences. I hope that none of what I say “offends” you. It is not my intention to be offensive. I care about my fellow citizens no matter what the color of your skin might be or the specific beliefs that you may have. I want to see America become the greatest nation again. But that’s simply not going to happen if our nation continues to turn away from God. That’s the way I see it.

High School Harry Graduates

            On Friday May 29, 2020, it will be the 46th anniversary of my graduation from high school. So much has been said via the TV news, Facebook, Yahoo and Google news, and other places how terrible it is that most of the high school graduations this year have either been canceled or totally altered due to Covid-19. I’ve read a lot about how disappointed the graduates are and how they are feeling somehow abused. Now, I don’t want to sound uncaring or hard-hearted, but my feelings about this is that it’s not that big of a deal. The graduates should be happy about graduating more than an over-blown ceremony that won’t mean much to them in the years to come. Maybe it’s just me. If you read my blogs often, then you know that I possess an excellent memory. Therefore, consider my account of the night that I graduated from high school.

            There were approximately 725 graduates that night. We all met in our caps and gowns in the school auditorium prior to the graduation ceremony. We had assigned seats and we were given last minute instructions by our class principal. Finally, the time came to march into the stadium and take our seats in the bleachers while a rather loud version of “Pomp and Circumstances” was played. Remember me saying what a great memory that I have? Well, just to show you that the whole thing wasn’t really that big of a deal to me, I’ll list below the few things that I do or don’t remember.

  1. I do not have a clue who sat beside me on either side. For that matter, I don’t recall anyone that was near me.

  2. My main concern throughout the ceremony was that my cap was a little too big and the slightest puff of wind would blow it off my head. I had to hold it in place most of the night.

  3. I have little recollection of who walked across the stage. In fact, I only recall two other people. My then girlfriend and my best friend.

  4. I know that there were a bunch of speeches and so forth, but I can’t tell you one thing about what was said. My then girlfriend was our valedictorian, but I don’t believe she delivered a speech. I honestly don’t recall.

  5. The adults on the stage that I recall were our class principal, the school principal, and the district superintendent. I’m sure there were more, but I don’t recall them.

  6. I have a vague memory of the row that I was on being directed to stand up and begin our turn to walk down to the stage. I had to hold onto that cap the whole time. Right up until my name was called and I walked across the stage. I had to hope it wouldn’t go flying onto the football field.

  7. Sometime during the ceremony, we had a streaker run buck-naked across the football field with two policemen in hot pursuit. It was hilarious and certainly the highlight of the evening. I honestly can’t say exactly when it happened. I remember feeling sorry for the graduates while it happened because the class principal kept on calling out names and nobody could hear her for all of the laughter.

  8. I remember being handed my diploma, which wasn’t but a rolled-up piece of blank paper, and then exiting on the other side of the stage. My best friend’s father was standing down there and as I left the stage he yelled, “Way to go, Randy!” I never heard the yells that my family told me they made when my name was called.

  9. Following the close of the ceremony most of the graduates threw their caps into the air. I didn’t because we were warned that if we didn’t return the cap and gown, then they wouldn’t give us our diploma the next day when we went to the school to pick up the real one. I didn’t want ANYTHING to keep me from getting out of that place. As it turned out, they had a big huge box on the football field, and we were told to just throw the cap and gown in the box. Oh well.

  10. My parents had put together a small informal gathering at their house for me, Diana, and Lonny and we all had a piece of cake. I do not recall a thing after that gathering. I cannot tell you what I did or what we did etc.

  11. The next day I went to the school and had my diploma in hand within a few minutes.

          That’s all that I recall about my graduation. I couldn’t begin to tell you what I wore under the gown. I don’t recall driving to and from the school. This is from someone who so clearly remembers minute details about so many things. Yet, the graduation ceremony from high school really wasn’t that important to me. The diploma was. Being finished with grade school was. I was ready to take on the world even though I didn’t have a clue how to do that.

          So, to all of those kids this year who are upset over the way things have turned out, you’ll likely have a clearer memory of graduating than I did. In the years to come, you’ll realize that a graduation ceremony isn’t that big of a deal. Maybe it feels like it at the time, but so many other things are going to eclipse it. Getting married, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the birth of a grandchild, and all the things that fill our lives will be much more important to you. Congratulations on graduating, but there’s a whole lot of living to do yet and one day you’ll look back on graduating from high school and what you will remember is the friendships you had and perhaps will still have and the pride of completing something that in reality should be a requirement of every person in America. Cue Mr. Pomp and Mr. Circumstance.

Ripples

            On part of our family property there is a fairly large pond or tank that is fed by an artesian well. The artesian spring was first discovered in 1964 when an oil company was doing some sounding and up through the ground came a bubbling crude. Clear and clean artesian water that is. My grandfather sunk a pipe and had a tank dug out with a bulldozer. It has never come close to running dry. Grandpa also had a spigot installed and you can still go to that tank and draw water to drink. It’s cold and clean and has been tested by Texas A&M. I love that tank. Maybe that sounds crazy, but it is a reminder of my grandparents and my childhood. When it was dug, they had to clear a large area around it of trees just to be able to dig the tank. I have a picture of my grandparents and an aunt beside one of the banks of the tank after the tank had started to fill up with water. But over the years many trees and undergrowth have sprouted around three sides of the tank. It is very picturesque. I don’t own that tank or the land it’s on, but my property borders it. It is owned by my cousins. We have an understanding in the family that any of us are welcome to go to any part of what was once the entirety of my grandparent’s farm, about 360 acres. One of my favorite things to do is to hop aboard my 4-wheel drive side-by-side vehicle and explore the property. It’s serene and peaceful and brings back a wealth of memories.

            One day not long ago while we were all supposed to be staying at home due to the pandemic, I went for a drive on the property in the side-by-side. When I got to the artesian tank, I was amazed at how beautiful the day was. The water was like a mirror. In that mirror you could see the trees of green and a beautiful cerulean blue sky with a few puffy white clouds. It was awe-inspiring. My first thought was that God is indeed the master painter of the universe. I sat there near the one cleared bank and watched as cardinals, sparrows, mockingbirds, blue jays, and other birds fluttered among the trees next to the tank. I could hear their singing along with a soft burbling of the water as it trickled out of the pipe into the tank. In the distance I could hear the occasional mooing of cows. I got out of my vehicle and stood at the water’s edge and did something that I used to do many times as a child. I picked up a small pebble and tossed it into the tank. Small ripples branched out from where the pebble hit the water and then dissipated quickly until once again the water was still and like a mirror. I then picked up a large rock and tossed it up in the air into the middle of the tank and this time the ripples were much larger and took longer to dissipate. Finally, I picked up a large piece of deadwood and threw it across the tank to see if I could throw it to the other side without striking the water. Well, I didn’t quite make it and the piece of deadwood slapped the water near the far bank and water splashed outward causing not only a multitude of ripples, but it also splashed water out of the tank and onto the far bank. And you know what? After a few minutes, the ripples disappeared and again the mirror was whole. The trees and sky were no longer distorted in the water.

            About that time, a thought came to me. Perhaps the thought was even placed in my head by God Himself. The thought was that what I had done in those fifteen minutes or so and the effects of my actions had a deeper meaning. Let’s pretend for a few moments. Let’s make believe the mirror-like artesian tank is ourselves. One day you’re just going through life and things seem to be doing fine. Then something fairly insignificant happens that causes a few ripples in your life. That’s the pebble. Maybe your microwave oven stops working. It’s certainly a nuisance and it’s going to cost a little to replace, but a quick trip to the store and the purchase of a new microwave solves the problem. Thus, the ripples subside, and your life is back to being fine again. A week later you’re driving home from work and an intoxicated person in another car veers into your lane and hits your car. You aren’t seriously injured, but you’re sore and you have some burns on your neck from when the airbag deployed. The worst of it is your car is a total loss. You loved that car and it was only a few months old. But the drunk driver had insurance and within a couple of weeks the insurance company pays for a new car and little bit for your pain and suffering. Within a month those large ripples from a large rock smooth out and once again your life is fine. Yes, you’ll carry the memory of the disruption of your life and you’ll never forget how scary that accident was at the time, but when it’s all said and done your life is made whole again.

            A few months later things are going fine and then a truly terrible thing happens. A loved one dies unexpectantly. This is like that large piece of deadwood slapping the water. It shakes your world to the core. You’re never going to be the same again. Remember some of the water splashed out of the tank? That water is gone forever as it either soaks into the ground or evaporates within a few minutes. The loss of your loved one cannot be replaced by anyone else. It feels as if a giant hole has been created in your life and the sadness, anger, depression, anxiety, and then finally acceptance of how your life has changed occurs. But you know what? Eventually, when enough time passes, even the giant ripples from that event subside. You’ll always miss the person that you’ve lost, but your life will become whole again. It may not be the same as it was and there may always be moments when you miss your loved one and sadness appears again, but you’ll again be whole. It will just be a new whole compared to before.

            I guess my point is that things are going to come along in life, some great and some small, that disrupt or change your world. But despite it not seeming possible when the events have just happened, your life will regain balance. I might add that if we allow God to help us through those events, then a peace that truly does pass all understanding will one day envelope our lives. There’s one other thing that I want to point out. Nobody escapes life without those days of disruption and sorrow. But with God’s help we can once again be made whole.

My grandfather is right by the water. My grandmother is on the left behind him.

The picture was taken in October of 1964.

This picture of the tank was taken in April of 2007.

The trees and shrubbery are much larger now.

My Top 10 War Movies In Honor of Memorial Day

            Although the past few months have at times seemed to drag by, the truth is when you’re retired time seems to go by faster each day. At least, it has for me. Frankly, I’m amazed that it’s already Memorial Day weekend. It seems like yesterday that we were just starting the whole pandemic nightmare. But I live alone and I’m used to being alone (although I would love to have a lady in my life that I could dine out with, watch movies, sit on the porch and enjoy nature with, take long drives with, and spend time studying the Bible with), so I haven’t been affected by the pandemic and staying at home aspects of it. Ooops! I’ve gotten off point.

            To my subject for this blog entry. We will be inundated with war movies over the next three days. Most of them will involve either WW2 or The Vietnam War. I grew up in a time when WW2 was the war that most war movies were about. Tom Brokaw called that generation the greatest generation and I agree with him on this. My father and two uncles were three of the 10 million men in uniform during that war. My father was a Marine, one uncle was in the regular army and while he didn’t see action, he was close enough to hear the cannons and be in harms way as a field clerk, and then the other uncle was in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was a hero and then some. He flew 32 missions over Germany in a B-17 and was saved by his flack jacket when the airplane he was a technical sgt. in was sustained heavy damage. He ended-up staying in the Air Force and retiring after 28 years. He was in engagements in WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. How I wish I could talk to him again about his service to our country.

            I keep getting off subject. Back to the movies. I am going to list my Top 10 favorite war movies. I’ll go ahead tell you now something that you no doubt have guessed already, they are all about WW2. Perhaps some of them don’t have the absolute best acting or there may be holes in the screenplays, but the movies are my favorites. I don’t really care what the critics say. We may agree on some and on some we may have completely different views. So be it. Here they are:

  1. “In Harm’s Way” (1965) – I’ve seen some critics lampoon this movie while others rate it highly. My reasons for including it are many. It’s in black and white during a time when black and white movies were becoming rare. It lends an authenticity to the move for me. It’s got a whole bunch of great actors in it. It stars John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Henry Fonda, George Kennedy, Carroll O’Conner, Burgess Meredith, and Paula Prentiss. The battle scenes are realistic and show the emotions of the men leading up to battle. Even John Wayne (an Admiral) admits to his best friend Burgess Meredith that he was scared. There’s some side “love interest” scenes that in my opinion lend realism to the story. One of the great things about the movie was that many of the naval ships and airplanes were still around and used in the movie unlike later movies that have had to mostly rely on CGI for these things. It’s been told by many who were in the movie that the director was exceedingly difficult to get along with and rude. Interestingly enough, it has been reported that John Wayne was the only actor that Otto Preminger didn’t try to bully. Most likely a smart move.

  2. “Hell Is For Heroes” (1962) – An early starring role for Steve McQueen, but also featuring Fess Parker, James Coburn, and Bobby Darin in a non-musical performance. It’s gritty and suspenseful and again is in glorious black and white. Steve McQueen was about as cool as you could get in this one.

  3. “Twelve O’clock High” (1949) – This is the war movie filmed closest to the time of the actual war. It stars Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger. It’s in black and white as well. It’s close enough to the air battle scenes that it depicts to be using actual planes that saw action. This certainly adds realism to the movie. It’s got plenty of battle scenes, suspense, and shows what was then called battle fatigue that is now well-known as PTSD.

  4. “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) – This is one of the most recent movies on my list. There have been several more movies since and I have liked many of them. There isn’t much that I can say about “Saving Private Ryan” that hasn’t been said, so I’ll leave it there.

  5. “The Guns of Navarone” (1961) – Stars Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, James Darren, and David Niven. It’s in color and I agree with that choice for the movie. The movie is one of the first movies about WW2 to come out in the 60’s. It’s very suspenseful and the story is based on Alistair Mclean’s novel. The night scene photography is stellar.

  6. “Stalag 17” (1953) – stars William Holden and shows life in a German POW camp. It’s suspenseful and the acting is stellar. Perhaps it’s a tad on the “Hollywood” side and therefore not as realistic as it could have been, but it’s still a great movie the way it is.

  7. “Battle of the Bulge” (1966) – I saw this one on TV recently and the rating was only 2 out of 4 stars. That’s just nuts. Maybe it’s not quite as realistic as some would like, but it stays on point and includes actual events related to that last gasp by the German army. It stars Henry Fonda and a whole bunch of well-known actors. I saw this movie when it was a new release at a drive-in theater. I was 10 years-old and it holds great nostalgia for me.

  8. “Patton” (1970) – OK, it’s got Hollywood blockbuster written all over it. But it did win The Best Movie Oscar, so it had to please a lot of critics. George C. Scott stars along with Karl Malden and the battle scenes are very well done. It shows a less than perfect man who was perfect for what was needed at the time.

  9. “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016) – stars a little-known actor named Andrew Garfield. It was directed by Mel Gibson and superbly so. It is based on a true story about a concentious objector who was awarded the Medal of Honor for saving many lives on Okinawa. He did not carry a weapon, but instead carried a Bible and served as a medic. The movie is very suspenseful, realistic, and for the most part stays true to the actual events. What it did omit was the fact that he had already received two bronze stars for his part in the battles off Guam and Leyte.

  10. “Where Eagles Dare” (1968) – stars Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Some people would wonder at this choice. The girl looks more like 1968 than 1944, but that’s nothing new. Its suspenseful, has some twists and turns and surprises, and it’s my favorite time period for Clint Eastwood. I know it’s just my personal tastes, but I like him best from “Coogan’s Bluff” through “Joe Kidd.

          There it is. My top 10 favorite war movies. I can just hear some groans over some omissions, but there are so many great war movies that whittling it down to just 10 is difficult. Some honorable mentions include, “The Great Escape”, “The Dirty Dozen”, “Von Ryan’s Express”, “Run Silent, Run Deep”, “Torpedo Run”, “Operation Pacific”, “The Longest Day”, and “The Bridge Over River Kwai”. I did not include any about the Vietnam War for a couple of reasons. They are, in my opinion, extremely crude and depict American soldiers as pot smoking, rapists, murderers of innocent non-combatants, and not what I believe most Vietnam Veterans were actually like. Even some of the more recent WW2 movies incorporate some these elements and it’s pretty much all Hollywood drivel. As for the Korean War there just isn’t much to choose from. A couple do stand out including “Porkchop Hill” and “The Bridges at Toko-Ri”.

          There is a little-known movie from 1940 that is and isn’t a War Movie. It does take place during the early stages of the rise of Hitler, but it’s not a war movie in the classic sense. But it is a fantastic movie and shows the rise of Hitler and how some German people bought his insanity hook, line, and sinker. The movie is called “The Mortal Storm” and stars James Stewart as well as some up and coming stars such as Ward Bond and Robert Stack. If you have never seen this movie, then you need to.

          Finally, I am a proud American and I believe that America saved the world in WW2. There have been many movies over the ensuing years that tell the side of some of the Axis countries. Let me be noticeably clear about something. I don’t want to see their side. I am a historian and I know the truth. I don’t want the white-washed “it’s not all their fault” nonsense. American soldiers didn’t mistreat POW’s. American soldiers didn’t torture the enemy. American soldiers didn’t want to take over the world and enslave people. The Axis powers, especially Japan and Germany, did those things. I don’t care about their side. They were in the wrong and I don’t want to see a movie that tries to show sympathy for them.

Eddie Haskell, The Panther, and The Timex Man

            Let’s face it. We’ve all done something like this. Made a joke about getting old. Perhaps we’ll use a phrase like, “Getting old isn’t for sissies”. The truth is we don’t pay it much attention until we get to a certain point. Oh, I remember thinking that I was “getting old” when I turned 50. But I still did anything that I pretty much wanted to do. No real limitations, physically speaking. No real pain like the kind that comes with arthritis and other conditions associated with being “old”. If we are fortunate, then we get old. But there’s no set rule or rules about when that happens. I’ve known people who were old in their 50’s and others who time didn’t seem to touch. I have an aunt who is 102 years-old and sharp as a tack. She doesn’t use a walker or cane and it makes me feel like a wimp. Yet, I have another aunt who is currently 83 and is now in hospice care. Chances are she won’t see her 84th birthday in July. She is in great pain, suffering from pneumonia, COPD, and some other things. She is bedridden.

            I kind of look at getting old as being stalked by a panther. We don’t pay the panther any mind for some time, but then one day the panther jumps on your back and sinks its claws in good. You pay mind to that panther at that point and in fact, it’s about all that you think about. I’ll turn 65 in three months. But I’ve been feeling the hot breath of that panther on my neck. Who knows, maybe I’ll keep the critter at bay for a decade or two. But you just don’t know. Yesterday Ken Osmond, otherwise known to the world as Eddie Haskell, passed away. According to a statement released by his sons he was 76 (would have been 77 in a month) and died from complications related to COPD and peripheral artery disease. Those two things are very much associated with being old. For my generation, he will always be the shifty character that he portrayed on “Leave It To Beaver”. I think we all knew someone in our lives that reminded us of Eddie Haskell. One thing is for sure. Eddie had a great friend in Wally Cleaver. I was saddened at Ken’s passing because it was yet another reminder of my generation getting old.

            When I was a child, I thought my parents were old then. That’s pretty much what we all think. The truth is there are memories that I have of my mother when I was 4 or 5 years-old and she was only 30 years-old at the time. 30 is not old in anyone’s book except when you’re 4 or 5. I witnessed both of my parents grow old. From their 30’s to their 80’s and 90’s. We all thought my father would die soon back in 1976 when he had a heart-attack and then bypass surgery. He was 53. He also managed to live another 40 years. I used to joke with him during those years by calling him “The Timex Man”. He took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’. I watched as he went through a myriad of ailments as he grew old. The same was true for my mother. She had always loved working in the flower bed. Growing roses or other flowers was a passion in her life. She LOVED doing yard work. When my grandmother died in 1989 my mother turned 60 shortly thereafter. She still got out in the yard for a couple of years after that, but then things started to go wrong. By the time she was 73 years-old she had to have a knee replaced and it never was right again. She had a hip worked on that caused her pain for the remainder of her life. She spent the last 15 years of her life having to use a walker to get around. I’m pretty darned sure she could feel the panther’s claws every day of those years.

            If you’re under 50, then you probably haven’t noticed the panther stalking you. But rest assured, he is there, and he’s got his eyes on you. Another kind of “Hungry Eyes” than the kind that Eric Carmen sang about back in 1987. When I finish writing this blog entry I’m going to go out and complete the yard work that I started yesterday. I mowed yesterday, but I need to weed eat and do some other work. I’ll be needing a nap in about 4 hours. I don’t get around like I did a mere 2 years ago. The panther’s breath is on my neck and you know what? There’s not a thing I can do about it. To those of you my age or older who haven’t noticed the panther yet, then you need to thank God for that. I don’t know, maybe I’ll outlive a lot of people in much better shape than I am today. It remains to be seen. There’s a verse in the Bible that I think about at times like these. It’s found in 2 Corinthians 12:7. The apostle Paul says, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh (some translations say my side), a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” It has been debated for centuries whether or not the thorn in his side was a physical ailment or perhaps a euphemism for a sin that he fought daily. I tend to lean towards it having been a physical ailment. I have dealt with such a situation for more than 20 years now and it will likely be the root cause of my demise one day. That’s just the way it is. I’m not at all a fatalist. I’m a positive kind of guy. Oh, sure, I get down sometimes from fighting these ailments and perhaps more so from witnessing what America has become, but the truth is I know that this life is a gift, that I love it, and that I will one day be in the presence of God, feeling no pain or anguish such as we experience in our earthly life. In the meantime, I get to love and be loved by my grandchildren and children and a plethora of friends. That kind of takes the claws and teeth out of that old panther. Meow.

Jack and Raymond: Back to Back

              Raymond was an “old” nine-year-old. “Old” meaning he was wise for his young years. To his younger brother Jack, he was not only wise, but also a fierce protector of his younger brother. Jack was just six-years-old at the time and looked up to his big brother for wisdom and guidance. He needed both given the life that the two boys had inherited. The summer of 1929 in Shreveport, Louisiana was the third summer that the two boys spent at the Genevieve Orphanage. They, along with two sisters, were sent to the orphanage in 1926. Things would get much worse for both of them in the years to come given the depression that began in late 1929 and other factors related to a corrupt state government and the lack of compassion by too many adults for orphaned children at the time. But on this particular day in July of 1929 Raymond and Jack were playing a game of stickball on the playground of the orphanage with several other boys.

            One thing that Jack was learning was that you had to be tough to survive in the world that he lived. Another thing that Jack became acutely aware of was that his brother Raymond was not only tough, but also had garnered a reputation for being someone that you didn’t mess with. But on this day, there were three new boys that hadn’t learned that lesson yet. They were about to be schooled by the “Green Boys”. The stickball game was going along pretty well until there was a dispute over whether or not a pitch thrown by Jack was meant to hit the batter or not. Jack certainly didn’t try to hit the other boy, but he had, and the boy was one of the new boys. Thaddeus Walford was the boy’s name. Only he didn’t like being called Thaddeus. He preferred “Thad”. Thad was large for his age of 8 and considered himself a scrapper and then some. He didn’t put up with much and he certainly wasn’t going to put up with this little towheaded skinny kid hitting him with the baseball.

            “I’m gonna make you eat that baseball, kid. You just watch me!” screamed Thad as he picked up the baseball and headed for the makeshift pitching mound. Now, Jack was no scaredy cat, but he could see right off that he was outmatched by the size of Thad. Thad’s two pals, the other two new boys at the orphanage, decided it might be fun to get in a few licks on the little pipsqueak, so they headed towards the mound to give their pal Thad a hand. Not that Thad needed it.

            Well, that was a mistake. A big mistake. Jack looked at the three boys approaching and then realized that like magic, Raymond appeared at his side. Raymond had been playing at first base.

            “Jack, you remember what I told you about getting in the first lick. No talking about it. Just take the first action on ole Thad there and be sure to make it count. I’ll be right here at your back.” Raymond told his little brother.

            As was common of boys the world over, the remaining group of boys started to form a circle around the Green brothers and their approaching adversaries. They were primed for a little blood sport. As Thad got to the mound, he put his hands on his hips and started to tell Jack what he was going to do to him.

            “Shut that piker up now, Jack” said Raymond.

            Jack took a deep breath and then did what he was told to do and taught to do by Raymond. In what must have appeared to be roughly the speed of light, Jack balled up his left fist and gave an over-handed round house punch smack on the nose of one Thaddeus Walford. Things got real interesting after that. Thad dropped to the ground holding his nose with his now bloodied hands and never had a chance. Jack dropped down on top of Thad, pinning his shoulders to the ground, and started to pummel Thad’s face and neck with punches from both hands. He was barely aware of the action going on behind him.

            “Help me! Help me!” came the cries. Only they were cries from Jack instead of Thad. Jack figured he was going to get beat-up bad when Thad recovered. Jack just didn’t understand that the fight had gone out of Thad with that first punch. What seemed to Jack to be several long minutes, but was in reality no more than a few seconds, had passed and he was lifted off of Thad by two big hands belonging to Mr. Ferris, the handy man and janitor at the orphanage. The first thing that Jack did was look at the man who everyone liked because of his kindness and understanding and then Jack said, “He was gonna beat me up and I had to defend myself. Watch ‘em cause he’s liable to go after me now.”

            “Jack, I think you don’t have much to worry about. Look at the other boy.” Said Mr. Ferris.

            Jack looked down at Thad who was a bonified mess by that time. Covered in a mud of blood and dirt from his neck up, Thad was whimpering and crying like a little baby. He looked back at Mr. Ferris with a puzzled look on his face and could hardly believe that the worst thing he had gotten was a couple of scraped knuckles. About that time, Jack looked around and there was Raymond, beaming from ear to ear, proud as punch that his little brother had been victorious. Also, on the ground were the other two new boys. One was holding his stomach and the other was nursing a fat lip. Raymond had pretty much dispatched them with two punches.

            “Now you boys shake hands and forget whatever it was that caused you to take to fighting.” Said Mr. Ferris.

            Thad shakily lifted his right hand and Jack cautiously took it and they shook hands. Raymond helped the other two boys up off the ground then handshakes were exchanged all around.

            “You boys go over there to the water spigot and clean yourselves up. I won’t mention this to Mrs. Hamilton if you won’t.” he said with a smile.

            Raymond walked over to Jack and put his arm around his shoulder and said to the other boys standing around, “You sure don’t mess with MY kid brother!”

            Later that evening after supper the two boys were sitting on the front steps of the orphanage and enjoying a rare cool breeze. Jack sat with his head propped up by both hands while Raymond laid back on the top step on his elbows.

            “You know, Mrs. Hamilton’s liable to hear about the fight anyway.” Raymond said.

            “Yeah, I know. That’s what worries me.” Said Jack.

            “You listen hear, little brother. If she asks you about it, then you tell her that it was all me. Ain’t no use in both of us getting in trouble. She’s always worse on you anyway because you’re younger.” Raymond warned.

            “I can’t do that, Raymond. I was the one that hit Thad with the ball in the first place even if it was an accident. And it was me that poked him in the nose and made it bleed.” Jack replied.

            “You do what I tell you little brother. Have I ever steered you wrong? Now, I mean it. If she asks about it, then blame it on me.”

            Jack just grumbled something under his breath and left it at that. Then he changed subjects.

            “What was Mama like, Raymond? I mean, I kind of remember her, but not really. Was she a good Mama?” Jack asked.

            Raymond sat quiet for a few minutes as if he was collecting his thoughts and then he said, “Jack, she was a good Mama. She just had more on her plate than she could handle. She didn’t want them taking us kids away like they did, but all the strength had gone out of her and she couldn’t stop ‘em from doing it. Besides, we’re probably better off at this old place than if we’d gone to live with Aunt Mattie or Uncle Robert. Them two are just mean. There’s sumpin’ wrong with them two.”

            Jack seemed to accept the explanation and before long he reached over and poked Raymond in the side with a big grin on his face. Jack was a kidder. Sometimes his good nature was catching even for his more serious-minded big brother. Raymond pretended to ignore the poke and then as he stood up, he reached over and tousled Jack’s sandy blond hair.

            “Let’s get inside before we get into trouble. Maybe I’ll read you one of those stories about that Dr. Dolittle or some of that book “Smoky, The Cowhorse.”. Raymond said.

            “Yea! I like that book about Smoky!” Jack replied.

            The two brothers walked back inside of the orphanage that they would call home for some years to come. There was a special bond between these two brothers and even mean ole Mrs. Hamilton could see it. It would be a bond that would last for life.

Cows and Baths

            I’ve been around cows much of my life. I’m not a “cowboy” and I wouldn’t want to wrangle the critters for a living. But I couldn’t help but notice some things about cows. As big as they are and as fat as they are, they can go places that you just wouldn’t think it would be possible. I’ve seen them cross creeks that are filled with mud and water and yet I doubt that the best of 4x4’s that are manufactured could cross those creeks. I also noticed that when they’re eating they tend to spread out and fill up several acres, but when they decide to go to another pasture, they line up single file and go where they’re going like a well-trained army. Perhaps the single most obvious thing about the cows that I’ve been around is that they are essentially what Samuel L. Jackson said about pigs in the movie, “Pulp Fiction”, they are filthy animals. Now, I’m not going to go into the depth of their filthiness, but nothing seems to bother them where this is concerned. It’s absolutely amazing what doesn’t bother them.

            All this brings to mind several television advertisements featuring cows. I don’t mind telling you that the cows featured in these ads are a cut above the regular critters that I’ve seen. Noticing this about the TV cows caused me to wonder. It’s not like cows are smart enough to follow directions and go take a bath. That means there is some poor person whose occupation is to bathe the cows. Now, I ask you, was there ever really a kid who when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, said, “I want to bathe cows”? I’m torn between feeling sorry for such a person for being stuck washing off cows or being happy for the person that they get to do what they always wanted to do.

            I’m so very thankful that there are people who feel called to be doctors and nurses. Frankly, some people are as filthy as cows and we all have that capacity when we are sick. I have been fortunate enough to not have spent much time as a patient in a hospital. I am a very private person. That’s basically my way of saying that I’m shy and I don’t want anyone to see me in all my glory. In January of 2013 I had to spend 4 days in the hospital. On the third day of my incarceration a nurse wheels in a cart to my room and announces that she is there to give me a bath. Whoa, Nellie! It’s true that I was hooked up to an IV and was a tad on the weak side due to the illness that put me in such a compromising situation. But I looked her in the eye and said, “I can take a shower myself.” Well, she looked doubtful and I told her to just come back in about 15 minutes and I would be clean. The IV was hooked onto a tall metal stand that had wheels. Me and that IV stand took a shower together. It was a little tricky only being able to use one hand, but I was more flexible than I had previously thought. While this little story is true and the humor is there for all to share, the truth is there are many people in hospitals who simply cannot take showers or bathe themselves. Thank goodness for those nurses who do the job that they do. I know that doctors see it all. Thank goodness for the ones who roll-up their sleeves and look at injuries, wounds, and all manner of human illnesses in order to help people get well. I think that perhaps the hardest thing to see my mother go through during the time leading up to her passing was her loss of dignity. She had to rely on nurses and other medical professionals to do everything for her. I believe that I got my shyness from her. I find myself thinking about the years to come for me. I remember reading about how the actor James Coburn died. He was sitting in his recliner listening to his favorite music on headphones and peacefully fell asleep. That’s how I hope I go. I might even take a sudden death in a car accident or some such calamity over having to go the way that my mother did. Of course, I won’t have a choice in the matter. What I do know is that I don’t want to be one of those TV cows and have to be bathed by someone. The time for being bathed by someone is when we are babies. I don’t want to be a baby again. They are sweet, beautiful, and wonderful additions to our lives, but by the time you get old you may be sweet, beautiful, and wonderful in spirit, but the body has taken a detour into “The Outer Limits” and as for me, I don’t want somebody washing this alien body when it’s at it’s worst.

Play It Again Sam

            I’ve had a lot of younger people ask me how I learned to play the guitar. When I say younger, I’m talking about people under 40. The first thing I tell them is that I didn’t start out playing guitar. I started on the piano. I grew-up in a family where everyone played the piano. I took piano lessons for only one year. I liked it, but it took a lot of work to get better and at the age of 9 I didn’t want to put in that work. My father also played the guitar and I had been hearing him play since I could remember. He wasn’t a great guitarist though. He knew basic chords and essentially played only well enough to sing along to the songs that he most enjoyed – country classics. He played songs that included “Hey Good Lookin”, “Bouquet of Roses”, “Pistol Packin’ Mama”, “San Antonio Rose”, “Walking The Floor Over You”, and “Detour”. At the time, I wasn’t a big fan of country music. I was more interested in The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, The Beach Boys, Paul Revere and The Raiders, and The Monkees. I eventually came to love those country songs and do so very much still.

            When I was about 13-years-old I wanted to learn to play the guitar. My father let me play his guitar, but it was a very difficult guitar to play. It had a short-scale making it hard to play bar chords and the action was set too high making it so that I had to press down on the strings very hard in order to play it. I learned a few chords such as C, D, G and E. F, Bb, But, B, and A were a little harder to play on that guitar. I didn’t get serious about playing the guitar though until I was 15. Probably the major reason that I started to get better was I got my own guitar for Christmas when I was 15. The action was far better, and the scale was normal. I lived and breathed playing guitar after getting that guitar. Herein lies the reason so many younger people don’t learn to play an instrument. It takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work. Too often young people of the past 30 years would rather play video games or watch someone else play and sing via videos.

            During the summer before I turned 16, I took some guitar lessons at a local music store. The problem was the teacher wanted to start me out with “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and “Row Row Row Your Boat”. Well, I had gone far beyond that on my own. I had bought a Mel Bay guitar chord book after getting that guitar and I learned every chord that I could. I started to play bar chords and learned lead guitar licks. I was learning most of the songs that I played simply by listening to the records and figuring out what they were doing. I also got a bass guitar that summer and it came with a record that had two versions of each song on it. One was the full version while the other didn’t have the bass guitar playing. It allowed me to play along with the song. Learning the bass also provided another way to learn the scales. I fairly well devoured anything by Paul McCartney and the studio bassists who I didn’t know their names at the time, but they were the best. These included Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye, and Ray Pohlman.

            My typical day when I was 15, 16, and 17 was to go to school and then come home and practice in my room for 4 or 5 hours. I came out long enough to eat dinner and was back at it. Doing that obviously allowed me to get better, but it was definitely hard work and determination that was important to my development. I wrote my first song when I was 15 (although I had tried to write songs prior to that, I didn’t write anything that was organized the way a song should be) and it was called, “It Must Be Love”. I started writing songs all the time. I freely admit that most of those songs were inferior and essentially songs that I learned how to write a song with. Another reason for getting better on the guitar was having another guitarist to learn from and visa versa. My friend Lonny Schonfeld and I started to play guitar together in November of 1972. We spent hours and hours practicing. The great thing was he would show up with some chord or guitar lick and I would have a new one and we traded off. Getting together with Lonny as a duet was one of the most productive times of my life while learning the guitar. Our abilities and how good we were getting seemed to accelerate at the speed of light. The difference in that first year was amazing. We were just two kids still learning when we met and by the next October, we were playing live gigs in clubs. But the learning didn’t stop there. It never stops.

            Well, here I am 64-years-old now and I would be a liar if I told you that I play as often today as I did for most of my life after 15. The great thing is I have literally gotten a lifetime of learning and even if I go a few days without playing, it’s like I had just kept going. All of that learning was what I called it earlier. It was hard work and determination. I’ve written about 600 songs over the years and while many of them were songs only good enough to learn by, I’ve accumulated over 100 songs that I believe to be of quality. Chances are pretty good that I will continue to play and sing until I can’t. Eventually, I’ll get to old. Arthritis and other age-related conditions will no doubt one day halt my playing. But what a great trip it has been and will continue to be for now.

            The lesson to be learned here is that anything worth doing and that you’re inspired to do is going to take time, hard work, and determination. My brother-in-law is a fantastic carpenter/craftsman. He has all of these saws and tools that might as well be from Mars to me, but he can make some beautiful things with them. It didn’t just come naturally to him. He has spent as many years learning that craft as I have the guitar. I know some guys who can take a car engine apart completely, repair or modify it, and put it back together. The darn things run incredibly well afterwards. It took time and work to learn how to do that. I’m a bit behind the times when it comes to cars. In my younger years I changed out parts by necessity on a variety of cars, but I wasn’t interested in learning that trade. So, if you’re still young and there’s something that you really want to learn how to do, then roll up your sleeves and spend the time it will take to learn whatever it is. If you do, then one day you’ll finish doing something and you’ll stand back and look at what you’ve done and think, “I did that.” You’ll feel pride for a job well done and for staying with it. As Ringo Starr sang, “It Don’t Come Easy”.

Getting my first guitar - Christmas 1970

The Great Airwick Caper

              Friday nights in early 1973 were very special for me. A typical Friday night would perhaps start with me going over to my girlfriend’s house (Terry) and sitting in her parlor (how quaint). Her parents still didn’t allow her to go out on single dates, so we would just spend time together in that little parlor. Sometimes I would serenade her on my guitar or play something for her on their upright piano. I was usually wearing my standard outfit of the day. A flannel shirt, some brush denim pants or a pair of corduroys, desert boots, and as wide a belt as possible that always matched the shoes in color. I also had a leather watch band that was at least 2 inches wide. I was stylin’ and then some!

            Terry and I would steal a kiss or two, but nothing long cause her parents were in the other room and could and would pop in from time to time to just “see how we were doing”. I liked her parents. They were very nice to me. I never felt judged or looked down upon by them. They would end up being much more to me years later after I had kids and we still went to the same church. Terry’s mother would sometimes work in the nursery at the church during the service and she became very attached to my daughter. They were always very sweet to me in those years long after Terry was married with children as I was.

            Most of those Friday evenings were a time for Terry and me to just be together. As usual, 10 o’clock was time for me to go. We would step out onto the porch and talk a little more, kiss a little more, and just hold each other a little. But when the porch light flashed, it was time to hit the road. My Friday evening didn’t end there though. Not even close. On one particular Friday evening I had arranged to pick up my friend Lonny about 10:30 and we would go cruising in the car. This was a common event during those days. I picked-up Lonny and the first thing he said was, “I need to stop and get something for my Mom before we cruise around.”

            “No, problem.” I replied.

            We drove to the nearby grocery store that was open until 11 o’clock and Lonny ran into the store while I waited in the car. The car was my mother’s 1967 Chevy Nova. Not a speed-mobile, but it was freedom. Lonny got back in the car and threw the bag on the floorboard behind us.

            “What’s in the bag?” I asked.

            “A couple of those Airwick solid air fresheners. My mom wants to try them out.” He replied.

            “Cool”, I said.

            Then we started on our long drive around. Just cruising around and listening to tunes on the AM radio. It was all the Chevy had. No FM, no cassette, no 8-track, just the AM radio, but the best radio station in Texas was KILT 610 and they played great top 40 tunes of the day. On that drive we listened to songs like “Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, “Jambalaya” by The Blue Ridge Rangers (John Fogerty of CCR), “Hi Hi Hi” by Paul McCartney and Wings, “Do It Again” by Steeley Dan, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John, “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins and Messina, and “Hummingbird” by Seals and Crofts. We would turn the sound down and talk when songs like “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, and “Sing” by The Carpenters came on. No offense to those artists, but we were just not into those songs. There was one song that elicited a debate as to its worthiness to be heard. For some unknown reason, I liked the song “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” by Hurricane Smith. Lonny thought it was horrid! Keep in mind that all of these songs were new hits of the day. That list reads like a greatest hit’s compilation from the classic rock years. We got spoiled in those days with the variety and great music that was common at the time.

            The drive took us down neighborhood streets throughout the Spring Branch area of Houston. He always drove through a Jack-in-the-Box and got a couple of tacos, a super-scoop of fries, and a large Dr. Pepper with instructions to “be cool with the ice”. $3 would fill the tank of my mother’s car and we wouldn’t use but about a quarter of a tank of gas. Yea, gas was still about 23 cents a gallon. Most of the stores closed by 10 o’clock in those days. While we were sitting in line at the Jack-in-the-Box, I noticed a dark colored sedan sitting across the street idling with two guys sitting in it. The car looked familiar and I realized that I had seen it several times while we were driving around. I thought it was just a coincidence.

            We got our food and drove down Long Point Dr. and pulled into the big parking lot for a strip mall center about halfway between my house and Lonny’s. It was time to dig in and start working on the svelte figure I now display. I was about to take a bite of a taco when I saw that car again. There was something odd about it. It pulled into the parking lot with it’s headlights off and started to speed through the parking lot, circling around and then coming up lickity-split behind our car finishing with a screech of the brakes. Before I knew what was happened both the men in the car got out of their car and ran up to our windows. One on each side with flashlights shining in our stunned eyes. What on Earth was going on?

            It was a cool night, so we had the windows rolled-up. The guy on Lonny’s side banged on the window and then shone his flashlight onto a police badge while loudly saying, “Put your hands on the dash.”

            We were then ordered to exit the car. The guy on my side ordered me to move back to the trunk and said, “Put your butt up against the car.” I complied. This guy was a Dirty Harry wannabee and he no doubt had a .44 magnum that would blow my head clean off.

            Meanwhile, the other cop had Lonny put his butt against the right front fender. My cop just stood there looking at me and then admonished me to “Don’t move a muscle” while he shined his flashlight into the back seat of the car. Lonny’s cop was looking at Lonny’s driver’s license closely and then Lonny’s face and then the license and so on. Finally, he was satisfied that Lonny wasn’t the person he was looking for. But these guys probably felt like they needed to save face or something. So, my cop says, “What’s in the paper bag?”

            I looked at him and simply told the truth. “Two Airwick solid air fresheners.” The look on that cop’s face was priceless. He just didn’t know what to do with that answer. So, he ordered me to get the bag and very slowly show him.

            I picked-up the bag and opened it and he shined his light down into the bag revealing two “Hawaiian Breeze” Airwick solid air fresheners. The cop just looked at me like I was a nut. The cops decided that we weren’t John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd after all and left as quickly as they had arrived. Lonny and I got back in the car, looked at each other, and wondered how we made that foray into “The Twilight Zone”. I asked Lonny what his cop was asking him about, and he said that they had a report of a runaway that looked a lot like him and that they had been following us around all night. We both shrugged and went back to our now cold tacos.

            It was a pretty strange event for us and something that we have talked about over the years. We’ve played the “what if” game. What if they had arrested us? What if this and what if that. In the end, it turned out just fine, but to this day I don’t tempt fate. I buy some other brand of air fresheners.

Whirleybirds, Training Wheels, and Being Stuck Like a Pig

            From the time that I was born until I was 11 years old, we lived in 8 houses. It wasn’t because my father was moved around in the military or jobs. There were several reasons for the moves, but mostly they had to do with a growing family or other issues. For instance, my parents bought the house that we were living in when I was born 4 years before I was born. It was a two-bedroom frame house. We lived in that house until I was almost 3 years old. So, the family did live in that house for about 7 years. But I was the third child born into our family and a larger house was needed. We moved to a 3-bedroom frame house a few streets over from the first house in 1958. Chances are we would have stayed there longer, but my mother and father became concerned when the paint on the house started to collect darkened material from a nearby tire plant and paper mill. The smell wasn’t too nice either. Mom figured that if the pollution that was turning the house black could do that, then it couldn’t be good for us. So, after less than a year we moved again. It was this next house that I have many of my earliest memories. I do remember the previous houses, but not as vividly as the house on Bonner Drive in Houston, Texas. The odd thing is we only lived in that house for about 9 months. We liked the house, but it was discovered that the foundation was badly cracked and would require massive repairs. Mom and Dad just didn’t want to go through that nor the expense.

            Some of the things that I remember about that house include its style. It was a 3 bedroom and 1 bath house built in a bungalow style. It did not have A/C, but it did have a few things that helped keep the heat at bay. First, the windows all had large aluminum awnings on the outside. This kept the sun from heating up the interior of the house. The windows also had 2” metal Venetian Blinds. There’s a sound in my head now thinking of those blinds. It’s the sound of the blinds being drawn up or down and the metal slats clanking against one another. This was years before mini-blinds made of plastic. The house also had a front breezeway with louvered glass panels that could be opened and allow a breeze into the house. Finally, there was an attic fan in the hall that cooled the house down when turned on. Essentially, it sucked the hot air out of the house into the attic and created a cooler interior. Perhaps these kinds of things are why I don’t recall the hot summers in Houston being oppressively hot the way that they have seemed in recent decades. Houses today are also more airtight than those houses in the 50’s and 60’s.

            Now for a few things about living in that house that I recall. I recall watching my favorite television show called “The Whirlybirds”. I recall playing on the hardwood floors with toy cars and cowboy and Indian playsets. This was the house where we had Tippy the parakeet of which I have written an earlier blog about. I recall the wooden framed detached garage that was a workshop for my Dad. I would often sit and watch him as he worked on piano actions. He was still having to wear a bulky leather and metal brace on his right leg from his car accident in 1956, but standing in the corner of that garage were a pair of wooden crutches and one of those metal crutches that also attached to his arm allowing him to walk and maintain his balance. When I was about 5 years old, I had gotten a second-hand small bicycle with training wheels. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I couldn’t keep up with the other kids who rode bikes without training wheels. One day I was outside trying to figure out how to remove those training wheels when the lady next door to us, a widow of about 60, saw me and asked if I needed help. I explained my plight and she quickly removed the training wheels with a screwdriver. Mom and Dad were not really happy about it at first, but when they saw me riding that bike by myself, they figured I was indeed ready to ride without the training wheels.

            The house wasn’t too far away from Sims Bayou. I remember all of us kids would go down to the bayou and see how far we could toss a rock across it. A family friend’s son was the same age as my oldest sister and one day he tried to swing across the bayou a ’la’ Tarzan style. Well, he didn’t make it and fell and broke both of his arms. That had to be rough. 10 years old and back to having his mother help him go to the bathroom! We had a rather inexpensive coffee table and matching end tables that flanked the couch. I think perhaps the one thing that I remember the most about living in that house was a game of chase that me and my oldest sister were playing. We were constantly told not to run in the house, but we didn’t always listen. I ran between the couch and coffee table and Barbara reached out to tag me and when she did it caused me to fall into the coffee table. Did I mention that table had sharp edges? Well, it did, and my right earlobe was nearly cut off by the fall. I was bleeding like a stuck pig. Mom rushed me down to the emergency room and while I was sniffling and crying a little, the doctor started to stich up my ear. The nurse who was helping him looked at me and said, “Well, honey, did they stick you like a pig?” This just made me start crying again. But there’s a silver lining behind every dark cloud and the silver lining for this one was I had a great story to tell at church to all the kids, all the concerned adults, and anyone else who would listen.

            Before long the problems with the foundation became apparent and we once again prepared to move. One other thing that I remember about living in that house was the rare snowfall that Houston received in late 1959. Dad made us ice cream out of the snow. Well, that’s what he called it anyway. I’ve driven by that house a few times over the years, but it’s been about 20 years now. When I last drove by it the awnings had been removed, but the house looked mostly the same as I remembered it. It’s funny how much living you can pack into a matter of a few months. Thinking back on that time I realize how very blessed I was to have my family. We were a family in the true sense of the word. There was a lot of love amongst us. Now it’s just me and one of my sisters that are left. She’s the only person alive that I can talk to about that house and who knows what I’m talking about. I know that the current coronavirus situation may seem interminable to most of us. But its not. It will pass and be a memory before long. If you’re spending time at home with your family, then make sure you show them your love. Let them know that things will be OK. One day there may only be two of you left to recall these days and I pray that your recollections are highlighted by spending quality time together and drawing together as a family. God bless.

Bo-Bo's Mom: Keeper of the Flame

            It was late 1964 and we had been living in our house for just over a year. We had become acquainted with the neighbors and the neighborhood cliques. On our street there were two families that were related. The fathers of each family were brothers. One of the fathers was an ambitious man, Catholic by way of his wife, and father of six kids. The other father possessed little in the way of ambition and was distinctly an unpleasant man to deal with. Then there was another family who had lived in the neighborhood the longest and were treated by the other neighbors as though they were royalty. They could do no wrong so far as the neighbors were concerned. On the night we moved into our house the King and Queen came to introduce themselves. Mom put on some coffee and was at first glad for a friendly visit. That lasted until the Queen stated that they mainly just wanted to come over and let my parents know how things were done in the neighborhood. In other words, they wanted to lay down the rules. All hell the Queen!

            Then there were the quiet neighbors. Looking back on it now, I believe they were just trying to avoid the neighborhood junta. Smart move. On the street to the west of our street I only knew one family. It was the family of a friend of mine. Thomas’ mother was a housewife and always nice to me. I didn’t know Thomas’ father well as he seemed to work all the time. He was an insurance salesman. Thomas was in my second and fourth grade classes during elementary school and we were good friends, but not as close as me and my friend Eddie.

            There were a couple of interesting and rather odd households on the street behind our street. First, there was the house with the two teenage girls. They were older teens than my sister Barbara. They were also considered to be as wild as they come. The evidence for this reputation was mainly seen in their summertime escapades. Their parents both worked, and the girls were left to their own devices during the day. They would often dawn swimming suits (bikini’s no less!), climb on top of the roof of the house to sunbathe, and thereby cause a traffic jam of teenage boys driving by to catch the show. Music would pour forth from a transistor radio and at times they would provide a dance review for the neighborhood. They were proficient at “The Jerk”, “The Fly”, “The Watusi”, “The Swim”, and especially “The Twist”. My mother would sarcastically refer to their house as “The Honey Hole” because it would draw the boys like bees to honey.

            Of all these fine neighbors, perhaps one of the more interesting to observe was a family of three living three doors down from us on the street behind us. There were vacant lots behind us and beside us, so the rather strange behavior of this family was hard to miss. The only child, whose nickname was “Bo-Bo”, was a grade younger than I was. He was decidedly lacking in social graces and would generally do the dumb thing in a given situation despite the smart thing flashing in neon lights with a carnival barker yelling in his megaphone, “This is the right thing. Do This.” If the sign said, “Turn right”, then he immediately turned left. Bo-Bo’s mom was apparently not much smarter. This is where I tell you about that fateful day late in 1964 when the clothes dryer and Bo-Bo’s mom had a rather unfortunate altercation.

            I was outside playing sandlot baseball in the vacant lot next to the King and Queen’s house and directly in front of the Bo-Bo house. Several of us were playing. The Prince, me, two of the ambitious brother’s sons, Thomas and his brother Charles, and a kid named Lester were having a good time. Bo-Bo was there too and was up to bat. I was playing centerfield and therefore I was closest to the Bo-Bo house.

            Most families in those days couldn’t afford a clothes dryer. Most moms still used clothes lines in the backyard for the most part. But somehow or other Bo-Bo’s father, a wrecker-driver that I would later be reminded of when watching “Tow-Mater” in the Disney Movie “Cars”, had purchased his wife a clothes dryer. After this incident I was reticent about using a clothes dryer for several years to come. But, to be honest, I still have no idea how what happened came about.

            There I was standing in centerfield waiting on Bo-Bo to bat when all the sudden I heard a blood curdling scream come from behind me. It was obviously a woman in great distress. We all turned around to see what was going on and bursting through the back door of the house Bo-Bo’s mother came running and screaming. I can understand why she would be screaming given her hair was on fire. No joke. It really was. She was running wildly in circles and slapping herself on the head and at one point dropped to the ground, bent over, and started to pound the top of her head into the dirt. Meanwhile, another neighbor lady who was outside grabbed a bucket, filled it with water from the spicket on the side of the house, and then doused Bo-Bo’s mom’s head with the water. Bo-Bo came running and screaming after watching the whole thing at which time his mother passed smooth out on the now muddy ground behind their house.

            The other lady told all of us to go home, but to be honest this was a show none of us could afford to miss. Someone called an ambulance and before it could arrive, Bo-Bo’s father showed up having heard the call go out on his shortwave radio in the wrecker. He wrapped his wife’s head in a towel and was consoling her when the ambulance showed-up. The good news was that she wasn’t really hurt at all. No burns to her actual head. Her hair was not so fortunate though. It took a few months for her to start looking normal again. Bo-Bo’s father was later seen manhandling the electric dryer out the back door where he then loaded it on the back of the wrecker, tied it down, and drove away. It was never to be seen again.

            The whole thing was at first neighborhood folklore, but within 18 months or so it was relegated to a mere passing description of the people living in that house. A new kid would move into the neighborhood and as you explained to him who lived where and so forth, you would give a brief explanation that would encapsulate the important things that you needed to know about the family living there.

            For instance, “A veterinarian lives in that house and he mows his yard at night”. Or, “They have six kids and their father has one brown eye and one blue eye. Very strange.” But nothing quite topped, “The mom in that house caught her hair on fire and the dad drives a wrecker and sometimes the kid, “Bo-Bo”, wears one of his mother’s wigs.” That one always got a “wow” and a nod that seemed to say, “Impressive.” The house itself also earned a nickname after the incident. It became known as “The Boo-Boo House”.

An Old Pump Organ and Something New

            I was 10-years-old and spending a week with my grandparents on their farm. The only thing that was different in the room that I stayed in was the old pump organ. It was what was known as a “field pump organ”. It was smaller than a regular organ, but that was on purpose. It was originally made to be a portable organ and was sometimes called a “Chaplain’s Organ”. It was made by an American company named Etsey Pump Organ Company in Vermont in about 1935. These types of organs were used by small churches in a time when electricity had not yet been brought into rural areas of the country or it was for church services held outside on location. Now, I had seen and heard the organ before because my father had found it, bought it, and made repairs to the baffles and a couple of sticking keys. For a time, it was in his shop and occasionally my mother would play the organ for her own enjoyment. Mom could read music well but had originally learned to play the piano by ear. She took piano lessons later in life as an adult so that she could play better.

            For some reason that I have no idea now why, my parents had brought the organ over to the farm and it was put in the front bedroom. I could speculate on it now, but that is all that it would be. A speculation. So, this was the summer that I was 10 and I spent most of the day outside. I explored the 760 acres of land that my grandfather either owned or leased. I never gave a thought to snakes or such. There were no feral hogs to worry about either. As soon as I could finish breakfast, I would head out the door to explore the farm on foot. I always carried my grandfather’s 1947 Remington bolt action .22 caliber rifle with me and a canteen of water. I still have that rifle and it is well-oiled and maintained. It’s leaning up against the wall by the TV as I write this. The rifle was for sending armadillos to Armadillo Heaven. They were one of only two animals that I was allowed to shoot. They dug holes in the pastures which could be a hazard for the cattle. They also would burrow under the fence around the garden and go after the tender young sprouts. The other animal that I was allowed to shoot was a crow. My grandfather had a very strong dislike for crows given their appetite for the cornfield and garden. He told me that he didn’t ever want to see me shoot any other kind of bird and I never did.

            I’d hike through the fields, the thickets, and the wooded areas of the farm and given that it was quite hot I would collect several pounds of dirt that joined my sweat and this combined with my being brown with a summer tan made me look like I was from below the border. I also had a route that I would take. It was probably about 5 miles of walking. My favorite stopping place was a fairly new “tank” (that’s what we called ponds) that came about when an oil company had been doing some sounding on the land in 1964 and struck an artesian well. My grandfather sent a sample of the water to Texas A&M to make sure that it was fit to drink, and he was informed it was about as pure as spring water can get. So, he had a man with a bulldozer come out and dig a tank. This was done while the spring was temporarily capped. Once the bulldozer was finished, Grandpa opened the flow from the pipes that he had installed, and it filled the tank up to the bream. I might add that it has never run dry since. It is still fed by that artesian well. It’s the only tank on the property that is clear enough to see the bottom. For some reason, the cattle won’t go into that tank. I guess it’s not dirty enough for them! Well, I would have already drunk all the water in my canteen by the time I got to that tank. Grandpa had also installed a spigot so that you could turn it on and drink out of it. He kept an old tin ladle hanging on a nail on a tree for drinking out of the spigot. But I usually just drank out of my hand or filled the canteen and drank out of it.

            I would continue my route and go through the cornfield, approximately 15 acres of it, cross over a creek, shimmy under a barbed wire fence, and get to the county road that was 1.2 miles from the farmhouse. I know the distance because I now live on the land where the county road would pass by and where I would access it. My front double-gate entryway once had what we called a “gap”. It was about 4 wooden fence posts attached to barbed wire that you could open and lay on the ground to get through and it was held closed with a taught wire loop that hung over a stationary fence post. I would walk back to the farmhouse down that road, stopping to say hello to Archie and Janie MacGregor who lived in a small house about 3/10’s of a mile from where I now live. All of us kids were taught to call them “Aunt Janie and Uncle Archie”. They never had any children of their own, so all of us kids were like surrogate children to them. Aunt Janie usually would be sitting on the front porch waiting for me to come by when I stayed at my grandparent’s. Sometimes she would fix me a glass of Tang or give me some pecans if they were in season. I would make it back to the farmhouse in time for lunch. Grandma always cooked a hot lunch. It was considered the main meal of the day. Supper was usually leftovers from lunch.

            I had standing orders NOT to come into the house until I had washed off out back of the house with the water hose. On this particular day I soaked my head with cool water out of that hose, washed off my neck and arms, and then stepped through the back door where the bathroom was located. I had to wash my hands and face again with soap this time and then dry off with a towel. I was drying off my face when I heard that old pump organ start up. Then I heard nearly note for note perfect the hymn “Amazing Grace”. Had Mom and Dad come back for some reason? When “Amazing Grace” finished, another familiar hymn “Near To The Heart of God”, began. I remember this so very clearly. But who was playing that organ? I quickly finished drying off and combed my hair and then headed to that front bedroom to find out why Mom was there. Only she wasn’t there. Much to my surprise my grandmother was sitting at that pump organ and playing those hymns. I had absolutely no idea that she knew how to play the piano or organ. They didn’t own one. I stood behind her and listened to her play that second hymn and then she asked if I knew the song. I said that I did and then we sang the song together. It was an incredible moment in my young life. I was singing a hymn along with my grandmother while she played the pump organ. I was amazed that she knew how to play that organ. It didn’t look like much, but she sure made it sound good. Mixed in with this crystal-clear memory was the fragrance of lunch on the stove cooking and then the slapping of the front screen door that closed by way of a long spring. Grandpa was home for lunch.

            As we sat down to eat lunch and after the prayer of thanks, I asked my grandmother where she learned to play the organ. She told me that she had learned as a girl on an old piano that was in the little community church that her grandfather had planted in the 1860’s. That church is still there. She said that she learned to play the organ on a pump organ much like the one she had just played when she was in her 20’s. They had one similar to it at the church for when they had revival services outside and for funeral services held at the nearby cemetery. The same cemetery where she, my grandfather, my mother, my father, my oldest sister, several aunts and uncles, and great-grandparents are now buried. I think back to those days of my childhood and I’m so thankful for those wonderful experiences. I also realize that there are things about people that we are close to that we don’t always know about. Good things. My grandmother played that old pump organ and to me it was something new. To her it was something that she had learned to do more than half a century before. This realization only reinforces my desire to write these things down and to keep my blog. I have a new grandchild I haven’t met yet because of this coronavirus situation. I also have a nearly 2-year-old granddaughter. The odds are I won’t be there when they are grown. I want them to know who their grandfather was and not just a name and an old picture. I want them to know where they came from. In this case, I want them to know that their great-great-grandmother knew how to play the piano as did their great-grandmother and grandfather. I’ve attached a picture of an organ like the one that my grandmother played that day 54 years ago.

 

She Don't Like Spiders and Snakes

            My mother had to go back to work when I was in the 6th grade. I missed her not being there when I got home from school. I missed her homecooked meals every night that she couldn’t make us because she didn’t get home from work until 7 p.m. She worked in downtown Houston as a secretary. Her day started at 5 a.m. when she got up and made breakfast for us. She rarely ate breakfast herself because she had to get ready for work. These were the days when women were expected to dress-up in heels, dresses or business suits, and make-up and hair done to be presentable to business clients. We were a one car family and Dad had to use our car for his business appointments. So, Mom rode the city bus. She was at the bus stop two blocks from our house by 6:30 and didn’t return until 6:30 in the evening. We started to have sandwiches for dinner on weeknights and they gave me money for a “hot” school lunch. She still found time in the evenings to sew, mend clothes, iron, and many of the things that she had previously done when she was a stay-at-home-mom.

            That fall I discovered a bank of gumball machines and other things at a nearby K-mart. One of the machines had plastic containers that held rubber snakes, rodents, frogs, and other such things that were of interest to a 12-year-old boy. I began to collect them and had quite a few before long. They only cost 25 cents each. By the spring of 1968 my interest in those creatures waned and they were relegated to any number of places that were used for getting something out of sight and out of mind. Meanwhile, my mother’s work schedule was taking a toll. One Saturday morning there came a knock on the front door. It was a rather rotund black lady in her 40’s. She was going through the neighborhood and offering to clean houses for the whopping sum of $8. While it seems like quite a bargain today, it was the equivalent $60 dollars then. That was approximately a ¼ of what my mother made at her job. So, it wasn’t a small number to us. But my mother was also a giving person and although she was perfectly capable of cleaning the house herself and we certainly needed the $8, she felt compassion for the woman. It couldn’t have been easy for her to go door to door asking to clean people’s bathrooms, vacuum, dust, and disinfect a stranger’s home. It had to be demeaning and my mother felt that we could make do without the $8 this one time.

            The lady was a sweet woman with a good work ethic. She dusted the furniture, cleaned the kitchen counters, cleaned the bathroom, cleaned the windows and mirrors, and finally began to vacuum as her next to last chore. The last thing would be mopping the kitchen floor. I was in the living room playing with our dog Rex and trying to stay out of the woman’s way while she worked. My mother was busy in the kitchen preparing for dinner that night. My two older sisters were in the bedroom that they shared working on homework and then practicing for a choir performance at school. My father was working in the garage on a piano action. The vacuuming began in the living room, then the small den, then my parent’s bedroom, my sister’s bedroom, and finally my bedroom. Things seemed to be going just fine when a blood-curdling scream from my bedroom erupted. The vacuum stopped and the poor woman came running down the hall screaming and flailing her arms over her head. She kept pointing back in my room and then she grabbed her purse and was running for the door. She hadn’t even been paid yet. Mom and Dad came running in and stopped her to ask what on Earth was wrong. She could barely speak, but kept saying “No, no, no, no, noooooo! I can’t do it.” She then told my mother that there was a giant snake and spider under my bed. Well, I immediately knew what it was. I nonchalantly went into my room knelt down and plucked the rubber snake and spider from their hiding place and walked back into the living room just as Mom was giving the lady $8. The poor woman saw me standing there holding the spider and snake and started to scream again. She hit the front door at roughly the speed of sound and said over her shoulder, “I ain’t coming back to this place. No way no how!” Mom turned and looked at me and gave me a look of disapproval.

            “Did you put those in there on purpose to scare her”, she asked.

            I told the truth. I had forgotten they were there. I apologized and Mom and Dad said it was OK. However, I was assigned the duty of vacuuming my room since it didn’t get finished. This in turn convinced my mother that much of the housework could indeed be done by us kids. To tell the truth, I think I knew that day was coming already. But like any kid, I avoided the situation until I had no choice. As I vacuumed my bedroom the mental image of that poor woman discovering the rubber snake and spider suddenly came into my head. I started laughing so hard I could barely stand-up. All my laughter attracted my mother who came into the room and tried hard not to laugh along with me, but since I’m being honest here, we were all laughing until tears came before it was over with. We weren’t laughing at the poor woman, but at the situation. Just as we were about to cease laughing, I quipped, “This would be a great skit on The Carol Burnett Show”. Well, that started the laughing anew. I sure hope that the woman got over her unfortunate discovery in a jungle called “my room” in her life.

Skip It. Skip it Good

            The old saying, “It’s the little things that mean a lot” came to mind this morning as I set in my easy chair and watched the birds outside my window. But the birds had nothing to do with a memory that I enjoyed perusing. It was in 1961 and I was 6-years-old. We lived in the south portion of Houston at the time. The area had at one time been a small town known as Genoa. My sister Debbie was in 4th grade and my sister Barbara was in 6th grade at Genoa Elementary. It was an old school building already. I would end up going to 1st grade there, but we moved three weeks shy of the end of my 1st grade year. What I remember best about that school was there were some giant old oak trees behind the school. My 1st grade teacher would occasionally take us out to all sit under one of those trees while she read a story to us. I must admit that this was the only thing that she did as a teacher that was endearing. She was otherwise a very difficult and apparently angry teacher. But that’s for another day.

            The little thing that I remembered this morning happened that fall. My mother took us down to the school where they were giving children the sugar cube vaccine of Dr. Laban’s live virus for polio. It was a big deal as far as parents were concerned. I remember standing in a long line on the circular drive in the front of the school waiting our turn. For my sister Debbie, it was a Godsend to not have to get a vaccine via a shot. She had a fear of needles that bordered the insane! After waiting for some time our turn came. In a very small paper cup, the sugar cube was awaiting us. I remember popping that cube in my mouth, chewing it up, and then a seemingly very little thing came next. But it wasn’t little to me at the time.

            My mother stopped to visit with a neighbor lady and while she visited, I noticed a couple of kids skipping down the circular drive. I had been very envious of my sister’s ability to skip and I just wasn’t able to get the hang of it try as I might. But on that day, I watched as these kids were skipping and I determined myself to conquer skipping. Mom continued to visit, and I was very proud of my brand-new pair of tennis (we called them “tenny”) shoes. Surely these new shoes would help me learn to skip. I started to give it a try and suddenly I was skipping down that circular drive, turning around while skipping, and heading back the way I came. I could skip! I even got cocky about it by skipping as high off the ground as I could. I remember yelling at my mother as I skipped past her, “MOM! I’m skipping!” I have no doubt that the other people who heard my declaration thought something along the lines of, “Poor half-wit kid. Well, at least he’s good at something.

            To her credit, my mother turned and watched as I proudly beamed with joy while skipping down the drive and she said, “That’s good, Randy.” For the next couple of weeks, I skipped everywhere. The sheer joy of skipping down the sidewalk was magical to me. Well, like most things, skipping yielded its place in my life to other achievements.  Things like being tall enough to get my own glass out of the cabinet or reading a Little Golden Book without anyone else to help. I might add that skipping made a very brief return to glory when I was 17-years-old. It was really just a cameo appearance for skipping. My pal, Lonny Schonfeld, and I were in Memorial City Mall one day and after partaking in an Orange Julius we somehow thought that it would be amusing to skip down the mall singing “We’re off to see the wizard”. Again, other people probably thought that we were either on drugs or perhaps possessing a low IQ. But we didn’t care. It just felt good to skip and to enjoy life with a great big grin and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nearly 60 years later I’m wishing that I could skip like that again. As Frank sang, “That’s Life”.

Green and Cue Days

            It was the fall of 1972 and a Friday night. Me and my friend Keven were on the prowl. I had my mother’s car for the evening. We were supposed to be hanging out at his house. But since his parents had gone square dancing (for real) we were doing some cruising and seeing what was out there. We soon decided to go to a local teen hangout called “The Green and Cue”. It had indoor putt-putt and pool tables. We were there to play pool and see if there were any girls to flirt with. I freely admit that I was the flirt while Kevin was very shy around girls.

            So, we played several games of 8-ball and regular pool, fed some quarters into the jukebox, bought a cold drink and something to munch on and generally had a great time. My eyes may not be Irish, but they were certainly roving. Hey, I was 17! We had just about had enough pool for the evening when a very attractive age appropriate girl stopped at our pool table and started to talk. I was thinking of all the possibilities while Kevin played pool. We finished the game and told her that we were about to leave. I was going to ask her for her name and phone number. Hope sprang eternal in those days. She was my type. Dark hair down to the middle of her back, dressed smartly in a pair of jeans and matching top, not too made-up, a pretty face and just the right height and weight. Well, she surprised both of us when she asked if we could give her a ride home. Could this really be happening?

            So, we go outside into the parking lot and head over to my car. Now, I might remind you again that it was 1972. My mother’s car was a 1967 Chevy Nova. In those golden days the front seat was usually a bench seat. I’m reminded of a song by a group called Cake. It goes something like, “Stick shift and safety belts, bucket seats will never do.” Thankfully, none of those things were in that car. Oh, I guess the safety belts were, but they were pushed down under the seat to get them out of the way. No warning buzzers in those days. We get over to the car and I’m fully expecting all three of us to sit on that front bench seat. And, as it turned out, we did. There was just one problem. Kevin’s shyness was in full regalia that night. I unlocked the passenger door and while I went around to the driver’s door Kevin and this girl stood there looking inside the car. Just exactly what was the problem? I sat down and looked at them and that’s when Kevin did something unfathomable. HE got in first and scooted over next to me and let the girl sit by the door! I was completely baffled and bewildered. Not to mention embarrassed beyond belief. What must she have thought? I get shivers thinking about even now.

            Well, we drove her to her house, and she got out and before I could get her name and phone number she said, “Thanks!” and walked quickly away to her front door. Kevin didn’t immediately move over by the door, so I gave him a punch in the arm. We got to the end of the street and I stopped the car and just looked at Kevin.

            “What is your problem, man?” I asked

            “What do you mean?” he replied.

            “Why on God’s green Earth would you get in the car first? I pleaded.

            “Well, I figured since she would be getting out of the car it would be easier that way.” He said.

            I slowly laid my head on the steering wheel and then started to shake it from side to side. I was genuinely hoping at that point that I would never see that girl again. That’s saying something for me back then. I’m afraid that I berated Kevin on this heinous act. He seemed to not understand though, but I think he really did. I think he was just shy and made a goofy move.

            Well, we lived through it and within a month I met the girl that I would date for the rest of high school. Ultimately, no harm, no foul. But I still cringe at the thought of how it must have looked when we pulled out of the parking lot of “Green and Cue”.

Ships Passing In The Night

            We meet people briefly and anonymously every day. Well, we did before this Covid-19 took us by storm. But, even during this time of uncertainty we meet people in passing. Perhaps it’s somebody working in a grocery store or gas station. We mostly give these people little, if any, thought. They do pretty much the same thing to us. We’re just ships passing in the night and that’s all. This anonymity renders our brief impression of someone a bare impression at that. We don’t give much thought as to who the other person is. That lady checking your groceries out may be a talented piano player who also teaches piano part-time to supplement her income. That man at the convenience store gas pump next to us may have been awarded a silver star for valor in the war in the Middle East. The truth is we don’t spend time getting to know anything about the people that we briefly meet. That’s not a crime and it’s pretty much a necessity given there simply isn’t enough time in our lives to get to know everyone that we meet on a personal level. What we can do is to not be so shallow that we don’t see the person as a person with hopes, dreams, talents, and a uniqueness that is theirs and theirs alone.

            I’ve spoken a great deal in past entries about my father. I’ve mentioned that he was a true craftsman. He was considered the “go to” piano tuner and repair person in the Houston area for many years. But even if someone met him in that capacity, they would have only known a very small part of who Jack Stout was. They wouldn’t have known about his time in the United States Marine Corps during World War Two. They wouldn’t have known about his physical abilities prior to the car accident that left him crippled for life. They might have simply noticed that he had a pronounced limp when he walked. They wouldn’t have known his musical abilities beyond piano tuning and repair such as teaching himself how to play the guitar, harmonica, and piano as well as being a first-rate trumpet player. They wouldn’t have known what a loving and good father and husband he was.

            All of this said, when I was a small child, I just knew him as Dad. The first time that I got a glimpse of one of his “hidden talents” was when I was about 6-years-old. Dad loved to read and especially loved to read science-fiction novels. He read every night before falling asleep. Later in life, after he finally retired at the age of 85, he could be seen reading a great deal. One of the things that he counted on me doing for him was to order books online for him that he wanted to read. Computers were not one of his talents, but I believe that was primarily due to his not being of the computer era. Had computers been part of his era the way that they are now, then he would have likely been quite proficient on them.

            There came a week in my 6th year when my father got a week of vacation. That’s all the vacation that he got in those days. We didn’t have enough money to go on a trip or do much in the way of activities, but Dad was content with some extra time to get some things around the house accomplished and to also have extra time to read. One day during this vacation I noticed the cover of a paperback that Dad was reading while sitting in his recliner. The picture intrigued me, and I just stood there at the foot of his raised recliner staring at the picture. I suppose it must have unnerved Dad to have me just standing there staring at him. So, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I really liked the picture on his book. He looked at it briefly and suggested I go play and let him read. I can’t say as I blame him. I was an inquisitive child. What I then did was go into my room, get a pencil and some paper, and I drew my version of a rocket ship. Inspiration was provided by the illustrator for Robert A. Heinlein’s paperback. When I had finished with my masterpiece, I took it and showed my father. I’m just glad that my masterpiece didn’t survive because it would yet be an embarrassment to me. As talented as I may be in some things, drawing isn’t one of them. But I truly love art and I am mesmerized by the talent that some people have for drawing and painting. To Dad’s credit he didn’t laugh at my pathetic attempt to draw a rocket ship. What he did do was give me that first glimpse of a talent that I didn’t know that he had. He told me to get some paper and a pencil and bring it to him. I did as he asked and then watched as Dad drew an incredibly detailed picture of that rocket ship and the surrounding scenery. Dad wasn’t just Dad anymore. He was more than that.

            As the years passed, I learned about this talent of his. When he had been in the VA Hospital after his car accident, he was in a body cast for 9 months! Imagine being confined like that. He had been an athlete since his childhood and was quite good at gymnastics, tennis, and especially basketball. Now he was confined to bed and a body cast with the knowledge that he would never again be the athlete that he had been. But you can’t keep a good man down. One day while laying in that bed in a hospital ward a volunteer came around and offered Dad some art supplies thinking that he might enjoy drawing. She gave him some drawing pads, pastels, charcoal pencils, and encouragement. Dad soon had the entire ward talking about his drawings. He drew pictures of some of the other patients, of a favorite dog of one of the patients via a photo, of a couple of nurses, and other subjects. He had kept one of the drawing books that included some of these drawings. He later told me that he gave away most of the pictures that he drew to the subjects of the pictures. I still have that book of drawings and they amaze me still. He got so much attention that a man from The Houston Post came by to meet Dad and look at his drawings. He offered my father a job as an assistant illustrator with the paper with the understanding that Dad would need to complete some art courses at the University of Houston. As much as Dad might have wanted to do that, he felt that his first responsibility was to get back to a point that he could again work and provide for his family. He thanked the man but explained that he just couldn’t take a cut in pay given his salary was already barely enough.

            Well, Dad finally got out of the hospital and it would be 5 years before he could walk without a crutch or brace on his leg. Life sometimes gets in the way of life. He didn’t do much drawing for the next 50 years. He was too busy working, providing for his family, and running his own business. But then he retired and that talent for drawing made a comeback. Despite Dad not being as steady with his hands due to age as he had been, he spent a great deal of his time in his shop/studio drawing. The talent was still there. A year or so after Dad passed away at the age of 93, I took some photos of Dad’s drawings from the 1950’s and then from the 2010’s. I showed them to some friends and they were amazed that Dad had never had any kind of lessons. It was truly a God-given talent.

            One of the people I showed those photos to was a lady that had been a person who Dad didn’t really get to know nor vice-versa. She was the lady who worked at the small café where Dad would call in an order for lunch for Mom and Dad on Fridays. She had no idea that he was so talented. I’m pretty sure that most, if not all, of those who read this blog entry know someone that they are unaware of the talents that they possess. When all of this Covid-19 is over and we get back to some kind of normalcy, then I challenge you to get to know someone a little better. No, you probably won’t become best of friends, but it can’t hurt to spend a little time talking with someone and sharing a tiny part of your lives with each other. Maybe one of the things we get out of this virus thing is an appreciation of each other. I’ve attached several photos of Dad’s hand drawings below. I hope you enjoy them a tenth as much as I do.

 

Picture of the cover of Robert A. Heinlein novel that Dad was reading when I was 6 and became interested in.

Dad's charcoal drawing of a dog. Drawn someone time in 1956-1958.

Pastel drawing by Dad of nurse on hospital ward.

Charcoal drawing by Dad of volunteer who gave Dad some art supplies while he was in the hospital.

Pencil drawing by Dad of another patient on the same hospital ward as Dad.

Drawing of a birdhouse and birds by Dad in 2014 at the age of 91.

The Old Wooden Bridge

            There’s a wooden bridge not far from my house. The bridge as it stands now was built about 20 years ago. But there has been a wooden bridge over that creek for as long as I can remember and long before that. My grandfather owned the land that the county road is on and in the 1920’s he gave a strip of his land to the county to build a road. It was a good deal for both parties. I suspect that there wasn’t a bridge on that road until the county built one in the 1920’s. Grandpa wouldn’t have been able to build one. I do know that 100 years ago that creek wasn’t nearly as big or deep as it is now. Grandpa most likely forded the creek in two or three spots in order to get from one part of his farm to another. I do know that there was what they called “a lane” along the general path of what would be the road going back to the late 1890’s. It was a simple wagon track.

            Grandpa’s property started at a “Y” in the road and ended at another “Y”. The south part of the lane was known as the “John Russell Flats” and was named for the landowner where the lane joined up with Grandpa’s land. John Russell was related to us on my Grandmother’s side, but to what degree I’m not sure. I know that her mother was a Russell. When we had family reunions when I was growing up it was for the Shaw-Russell side of the family. Those reunions started in about 1935 and were held every year until 1967, the year my grandfather died. They continued in 1968 and lasted through 1972, but due to the generation that had started them becoming too old to organize the reunions or too many of that generation dying, the reunions ceased in 1972. To be honest, they were never the same to me after Grandpa died. We had fun at the ones in 1968, 1969, and 1970, but due to another death near the time of the reunion in 1971 that year was canceled. The last gasp was in 1972. Yet another couple of deaths in 1973 just put an end to them. I digressed there.

            The wooden bridge before the current bridge had been around for at least 50 years. It was the bridge that we crossed so many times to get to and from my grandparent’s farm. I have some very fond memories of that bridge. When we visited the folks, how many ever of us kids that were there would always walk to the bridge together. It was about 3/10’s of mile from the farmhouse. The best times were when it would be me, my sisters, and my two cousins, David and Phil. We would have a great time just being together out in the country. When we got to the bridge, we would toss small rocks into the creek and there were times you could fish off that bridge, but I never fished. Not my bag. Generally, we would get to the bridge and one of us would say, “Let’s keep walking up to the top of the hill.” The hill was where my grandfather had a gate entrance into the pastures. We’d get to the top of the hill and someone would say, “Let’s walk on down to the “Y”. That would put us about ¾ of mile from the farmhouse. If it was a hot day, then we would get to hoping Grandpa would come along in his truck and we could hitch a ride on the tailgate back home. There was a love among us that none of realized at the time. I look back on those days now and think of how much fun we had together. Sadly, if the four survivors were together today at the farmhouse, I doubt that we’d make it to that bridge as a unit. I know that my sister couldn’t make it. David and I would, but we’d both be hobbling more than anything. Philip probably can still get around pretty good. He lives in Alaska and that means he’s a bit heartier than us!

            Sometimes those days seem like just a week ago and sometimes they seem a lifetime ago. The great part for me is that I drive that road several times a week. Given it’s a dirt road and not exactly maintained as well as it should be, I have to drive slowly. But in a way, that’s ok. I drive that road and it’s like those days when we walked it. It’s not quite as shady as it once was due to there was a pine beetle problem about 30 years ago that killed off a number of trees. But it’s still pretty shady in places and when I go across that creek a flood of memories comes rushing through. Pun intended. My mother used to talk about how they all walked on that road and across that bridge when she was a little girl. Well, when my kids were still at home, I used to bring them and stay at the farmhouse for a weekend or a week of vacation. We would all walk down to that bridge together and it was déjà vu all over again. I even have pictures that I took of my daughter walking with me on that road to that bridge when she was expecting her first child. I’ve certainly driven that road with my granddaughters over the past few years, but it hasn’t occurred to me to walk it with them like we did. Not until now. Next time they are up here I think I’ll have to do that. I may have to use my cane, but so be it. It will be 5 generations in our family to have done that. All this about a simple wooden bridge and an old dirt road! But isn’t it true that the simple things, the things that are free gifts from God, are the best part of life?

 

This is how the road once looked.

This is the actual road with the farmhouse visible through the trees.

Everything In Its Own Time

            There was once a place in Southwest Houston that was a great place to go for shopping and for going out on a date. It was called Westbury Square. The first time that I went there was with a couple of friends and my girlfriend. It was in October of 1975. We went to a eat at The Village Square Pizza Parlor and listened to live music. I have no recollection of who the band was, but I recall liking them. They performed then current Top 40 tunes. We walked around the square but didn’t actually do any shopping that night. The place was a fair distance from where we all lived, so we didn’t go back for many months.

            At the time, I was preparing to do a “single” (solo performance) in clubs and restaurants. I worked part-time at a K-mart in the photo department and spent several hours a day working up a repertoire that would allow me to play five 45-minute sets. I planned on using two different guitars and sing. I would use my Takamine 12-string and my Alverez bi-centennial model 6-string acoustics. They were both great guitars and fully suited to the music that I planned on performing. I worked up many singer-songwriter songs from the late 60’s and early 70’s as well as I kept current with songs that were in the same vein. Some of the current songs at that time that I could appropriately perform with just an acoustic guitar and vocal included “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Annie’s Song”, “Lyin’ Eyes”, “Sister Golden Hair”, and the hit cover by The Carpenters of “There’s A Kind of Hush”. I also included in my sets several songs that I had written. These included “Your Heart Will Bleed”, “Loneliness”, “The Ax-Wax Museum”, “It’s Been So Long”, “Love In Me”, “Cry Me A Rainbow”, and “I Looked Into Your Eyes”. I’ll come back to that last one in a minute.

            I had a Peavey PA system with two columns that each had 4 10” speakers and a 130-watt mixer. It was plenty of volume and would accommodate plenty of microphone inputs. By the middle of January of 1976, I was ready to take on the world. The only drawback to doing a single at the time was an annoying thing called “Disco” that was becoming very popular. I say it was annoying because it did not lend itself to a just a guy and his guitar. The “beat” or drums were very much in the forefront of that genre as well as synthesizers and a prominent bass. It was also a multi-voice genre with lots of harmony. However, there were still a lot of people who wanted to hear the kind of music that I was playing. I quit my job at K-mart at the end of January and started to actively seek some clubs or restaurants to obtain bookings. It took me about 6 weeks to get my first booking. I signed a contract with a nice restaurant and club called “The Bull and Anchor”. You’ll never guess what kind of food they served! Oh, and guess where it was located? Yes, good ole Westbury Square. I had a guaranteed contract for 7 weeks starting the second week of April. I bought some new shirts and pants to go with what I considered my “Saturday Night” suit. It was a dismal gray leisure suit. Yuck! I would be playing five nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday. The club part of the establishment was where they seated people while they waited for a table on the restaurant side as well as it was a full-blown bar for people who just wanted to hear live music and buy a few drinks.

            I guess I should have mentioned it before, but at the time I was the ripe old age of 20. I look back on it now and it took a lot of guts and some talent to do what I did. While I was actively seeking a booking agent, I got this job on my own and while I played there, I started to have a regular clientele or following. Although I had performed in clubs going back to when I was 18, I had been in a duet back then. Having all the responsibility on my shoulders was a different animal altogether. And, those 7 weeks were eye-opening. I learned that all kinds of people went to clubs. Some of them were extremely nice and some of them were extremely rude. The rude ones generally had partaken too much in the way of libations. There was always some smart-a** who would ask me to play Kiss or Led Zeppelin knowing full-well it just couldn’t be done with a single acoustic guitar and vocal. However, I did start working up songs by many of those artists that I could do just to shut up the loudmouths. I worked up “Angie” by The Rolling Stones, “Over The Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin,” and “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who among others. I quickly learned that there were certain songs that were well-liked by people who otherwise liked a different genre. “Annie’s Song” was one of these. It turned out that the chef was engaged to be married and that song was his and his fiancé’s favorite song. He asked me to sing it at their wedding and so I did. My girlfriend at the time was only 17 and couldn’t legally go into the club, but I had her in a couple of nights and it helped to have someone there that I knew in the audience. On one of those nights when it came time to take a 15-minute break, we walked around the square and did some window shopping. There were actually some very nice little shops there. The first Hallmark store that I ever went to was there.

            It turned out that I missed out on a very cool concert during that time. I had purchased tickets to go see Paul McCartney and Wings. The concert was going to be on a Sunday night and that meant that I could go. But there was a postponement of the start of that tour and when it was changed the concert was on a Tuesday night. So, I sold my tickets to a friend. To rub salt in that wound I ended up being caught in a traffic jam on my way home due to all the traffic from that concert. Boo.

            The last week that I was there the manager came to me and told me that they were going to no longer have live entertainment. They were going to install a dance floor and have a DJ playing disco. More annoyance. On the last night that I played I decided to let my true colors come out. You see, even though I played where they served alcohol, I didn’t drink. I was true to my girlfriend despite several young ladies trying to pick me up. I would marry that girlfriend in September of 1976. I decided to make my last song there “I Looked Into Your Eyes”. I had written it with a little bit of deception. The lyrics go, “I looked into your eyes and found such peace. I looked into your face and quiet serenity. I never knew of such a perfect love. As that love you have for me. I gotta say thanks for your love.” All the way up until the very last line of the song a listener would believe that I was singing about a girl. But the last line of the song goes, “I never knew of such a perfect love. As that love you have for me. Thank you, Jesus, for your love.” I still believe that song is one of my finest. However, I have not made a truly decent recording of it. That night I sang that song and as I was putting my guitar down to finish my run there, a middle-aged man sitting in the back of the club spoke up.

            “What was that last line you sang?” he asked

            So, I told him. He looked at me and then said, “That’s beautiful, young man.”

            Well, it made me feel really good to hear that. That night was the last night that I would play in a club for another 4 years. Getting married and all that goes with that, including supporting a wife, kept me working outside of music performance. Like I said earlier, I learned a lot in those seven weeks. I gained confidence and perspective too. I also learned that when six loud young people are all drinking from a huge with 6 straws, they are probably drinking what was then called “A Zombie”. It inspired me to write a song called “Zombie Music”. I learned that you needed to unplug the tabletop pong game while performing because you just couldn’t compete with it at the time.

            When I think of Westbury Square I remember all of these things. Several years ago, I happened to be on business in that area and thought I’d go check out the square for old times sake. It was very sad. Most of it was torn down and replaced by a Home Depot. What little was left was condemned by the city and would have been dangerous to trespass. What had once been a quaint place to go was no more. In fact, the neighborhood areas around it had fallen on hard times as well. Time takes its toll. I mean, I’m not exactly what I was back then either. I wish I was in that condition. Everything in its own time. Its own time.

Is That All There Is?

            For my 8th birthday my parents took our family to the circus. We lived in Bryan, Texas at the time and a circus like Ringling Brothers didn’t bother with small towns like ours. But there was plenty of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to a circus that it would be profitable for a smaller circus. For weeks prior to the circus coming to town there were advertisements on TV, radio, and in the newspapers. In other words, there was a lot of hype. The circus that was coming to town was the Clyde Beatty Circus. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was in its last few years of existence. Clyde Beatty had been quite famous as a lion tamer and had actually appeared in several movies in the 30’s and 40’s and even appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. But times were getting tough for his circus by the time 1963 rolled around. In fact, he would pass away in 1965.

            The posters that were plastered all of town made going to the circus seem so exiting. Posters with elephants, lions, high-wire acts, and all the usual parts of a circus made my almost 8-year-old mind filled with excitement. Finally, the day came and on a Friday night we all piled into the car and went to the circus. We got to the location and there was the big tent. Multi-colored flags blew in the wind and a sense of excitement filled the air. The first person that we saw as we went into the tent was a clown. I was never much of a clown lover, but he was friendly and handed out programs. The first thing that I noticed was the smell. It was a cacophony of smells. There was sawdust, manure, popcorn, cotton candy, and all the smells that you would associate with a circus. Of course, the sounds of the circus were there too. Animals making their noises, whips snapping, backfiring little cars that the clowns rode around in, crowd speak, and musical instruments playing loudly all mixed together with the smells and the sights. Did I say sights? Flashy and gaudy costumes on both performers and animals gave the impression that they had all been painting and had gotten more paint on themselves than anything else.

            Then there was the opening fanfare and a parade around the three rings. The first thing that we saw were several elephants walking with their trunks attached to the next elephant’s tail. There were costumed performers riding on the elephants and waving at the crowd. Frankly, what I couldn’t help but notice was the prodigious amount of elephant excrement left behind. I’d been around my grandfather’s cattle and as much as they produced, the elephants greatly surpassed the bovine production. I have some other vague memories of the night such as the high-wire act, the dancing horses, and the antics of the clowns. But hands down the one thing that I remember the most was the human cannonball. First, that boom was deafening. Second, the helmeted human cannonball flew the length of the three rings and landed in a giant net.

            I’d love to tell you that it was a magical night in my young life, but it really wasn’t. There was a song that was a big hit about 6 years later that the singer talks about going to the circus as a child and when it was over, she simply thought, “Is That All There Is?” That’s how I felt. Over the years when I have thought about that night and the trip to the circus, I have compared it to life in general. There are people that we meet that are clowns. They may not be official clowns, but they have clown like attributes. Some of them don’t wear the make-up (but some do) and costumes, but they are in general superficial people. You just don’t ever know what a clown is really thinking. There are some incredibly talented people in our lives, and these are the high-wire performers. You look at what they do and realize that it takes a special kind of person and talent to do it. You know that you could never do what they do. When I hear a lot of politicians speak, I think of the human cannonball. A whole lot of noise, a big flash, and there always seems to be a net to catch them.

            I don’t want to give the impression that I hated going to the circus. It’s just that it simply didn’t live up to all the hype. It occurs to me that there are a lot of things in life that seem bigger than life and so exciting. It’s human nature to imagine these things greater than they could ever be. I have found that the most exciting events in life usually come out of the blue and are totally unexpected. Maybe that’s the key. If we build up something in our minds, then we’re setting it up so that it can’t possibly compare to our imagination. And it’s about that time that we sing, “Is That All There Is?”

It's Going To Be Ok

            All I can say is “wow”. Well, that really isn’t all I can say. But you knew that. I’m half a year away from being 65-years-old. I’ve lived through quite a bit in my life. Some really great times and some really not-so-great times. When I was 18 the Arab oil embargo hit America. I sat in one long line to get gas, but the only thing that really happened was the price of gas doubled. In 1979 we experienced a gas shortage that lasted about two or three weeks. I sat in some long gas lines that time, but nothing terrible. The price of gas was still below $1 a gallon. Later that same year we all sat in front of our TV’s and watched the Iranian hostage drama unfold. We all briefly worried about a war, but for most of those 440 days that our fellow Americans were held hostage, the majority of us here at home simply went about our normal lives.

            The early to mid-80’s saw us concerned about a new virus that was mainly affecting homosexuals at the time. But we worried about the blood supply being tainted and for some that became all too real. But for most of us we just went about our normal lives. In 1987, there was a stock market crash. I knew a few people affected by it, but for most of the people that I knew it didn’t mean much. None of us had money in the market to begin with. Life continued onward. For a couple of years prior to the millennium we were told that at the stroke of midnight on 1-1-2000 the world might end. The Y2K scare had us backing up our computers and some people went out and bought batteries and bottled water. But the new millennium came and went, and nothing happened.

            Then there was 9-11. That was indeed a scary day and a few weeks that followed. It would eventually usher in a war that most of us weren’t affected by. It did usher in some new laws that have affected our lives, but those are mostly inconveniences such as going through the airport checks. I don’t fly though, so it doesn’t affect me at all. I haven’t been on a plane since 2005 and those changes weren’t in affect yet.

            In 2008 we had another stock market event. But it didn’t really touch everyone’s lives in a great way or for very long. We’ve been through so many scares, many of them manufactured by unseen entities. Going back to my childhood we had Vietnam. It was a horrible war and too many of our young men lost their lives or were forever affected by it. But the truth is that most of us at home weren’t affected on a daily basis by that war. Families still went on vacations, bought new homes, bought new cars, had plenty to eat, and we actually had one great by-product. Some great music. Yes, me and my fellow classmates in elementary school had drills at school that were supposed to save us if the Russians dropped some A-bombs on us. But it was mostly a welcome interruption in class, and I don’t recall anyone getting upset over it.

            When I was 8-years-old JFK was assassinated. We all worried for a couple of months that it would lead to something worse. But all it took was 4 young men from Liverpool, England to sing those worries out of our heads. Through all of those years and all of those events my life was pretty much like anyone else’s life. I grew up and dated girls, owned a car, got married, had two kids, went to college, and eventually spent 25 years working in a job that was unfulfilling, but paid the rent and a few extras. As I grew older my body did like anyone’s body does that grows older. Things stopped working or hurt or caused me to have to change some of my ways of living.

            So, here we are in March of 2020 and for the first time in my life I’m seeing something and experiencing something that none of those other things came close to. The Coronavirus pandemic has truly interrupted everyone’s lives. Some people seem to have lost any good sense that they might have once had. How bad are their bowels to need all that toilet paper? But seriously, there are some unprecedented things going on now. Public gatherings canceled. Not only sporting events, schools, businesses, and restaurants have been canceled or postponed, but our places of worship are also closing in some cases. While they will have services online if they are set-up for that, the fact is worshipping God together is currently not a corporate worship. Meanwhile, we’re all worrying about getting the virus. If I turn on the news all I see is doom and gloom over the virus. Perhaps the most disturbing reports pertinent to me personally is when they tell us that people over 60 or with chronic illnesses are hit the hardest. Well, I have diabetes. It’s under control now, but if I got that virus what would happen? And we don’t have a clue how bad this is going to get.

            Well, I for one have decided to put it in God’s hands. I’m just not going to let it make me sick simply by its existence. I’ll take precautions that I should, and I’ll be careful, but in the end, I trust God to see me through. If I somehow or other catch this thing, then I trust God to see me through. And if I should die from it? Then I’ll be in the presence of God where I will never again get sick, or know sorrow, or know despair, or know worry, or have pain. Are you secure in this as well? I truly hope so. If you aren’t, but want to, then feel free to message me and I’ll be more than happy to tell you how. I’m not going to tell you to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” because that would be disingenuous. But there is a way to be happy despite this dilemma we currently face. Trust me on this.

 

 

Evil

            There are times in our lives when things happen that we simply cannot understand. In fact, I don’t believe that certain things can be understood. We expect to experience the ups and downs of life including some devasting lows and incredible highs. But there are things that come along that are completely unexpected, and our world is shaken to its core. I’ve experienced some traumatic things in my life. I never knew my father before he was crippled in a car accident when I was 4 months old. I always knew him the way he was after that accident. My earliest memories of him are from when he was still having to wear a metal and leather brace on his right leg. He eventually had surgery that made it possible to walk, with a pronounced limp, without wearing a brace or using crutches. I lost my close childhood friend to drowning when I was 9-years-old. Just 30 months ago my son-in-law took his own life. While all of these things were extremely hard to get through and to come to some kind of understanding of, they were not evil. Perhaps my son-in-law taking his life came close to being evil, but at least he didn’t harm anyone else.

            Anyone who believes that evil doesn’t exist is a fool. Most of us experience what I call “Evil Light”. A boss being petty and doing things intentionally to cause you unhappiness. A person cutting you off in traffic and giving you the one-finger salute. Perhaps someone stealing your car or other possession. These things are troubling and can cause some pain, but they are overcome with a little time. Some people experience evil in a more destructive way such as a home invasion, being mugged, being beat-up because of the color of your skin, or any number of felony crimes in our society. Then there are the people who do things that are so evil and destructive that there simply isn’t any understanding the act.

            I try to write my blog entries with a positive point of view. I try to incorporate humor and to I try to be genteel in my blog. But today I can’t do that. I’ll get back on track in a day or two, but for right now I just can’t. Why? Because something horribly evil has happened to my long-time friend’s family. There is no other word for it than evil. I have known Lonny for nearly 48 years. We have been close throughout those years and there is a bond that simply cannot be broken. On Monday afternoon my phone rang, and I could see that it was Lonny calling. It’s always nice to hear from him. But this time was different. On the other end of the line my dear friend was crying. He was obviously distraught. He told me that he was on the way from his home to the scene of an unspeakable evil. His ex-son-in-law had shot and killed two of Lonny’s beautiful grandchildren and taken the life of a woman and himself. Two boys, ages 9 and 12, whose lives were snuffed out by an evil act that cannot be understood. I don’t know how Lonny’s family, especially his daughter, the mother of the boys, are going to get through this. The truth is they will never “get over” it. They will learn to live with the aftermath and there will always be a sadness in their lives.

            I cannot tell you how profound this loss has affected me. Lonny is as much a brother to me as any blood related brother would ever be. We have had great times together and been there for each other during the low spots. But to see the pain this evil act has caused Lonny and his family is heartbreaking. Yes, my heart is broken for them. I have prayed for them and will continue to do so. I will give what support that I am able to in the coming months. When I think of the last picture that I saw of Lonny and the boys, the smiles and love for each other so very evident, I am filled with sadness that Lonny will never again spend time with them. I’m sad that they will not enjoy the wonderful lives that they should be living. I think of the missed first dates, successes in sports, growing into young men, falling in love and getting married, and having children of their own.

            I can’t give you or Lonny a satisfactory answer for why this has happened other than to say that evil exists and for the time being is allowed to exist. As a Christian, I do believe there will be justice for these two beautiful boys. I believe that they are now in the arms of Christ and will never again experience evil for eternity. While it’s no consolation to the family, the fact is this evil person is in eternal torment or what we call hell. At least he will never cause harm to anyone else ever again.

            I ask you, my dear friends and readers, to please pray for Lonny, his daughter, and the rest of the family. Pray for comfort and pray for peace. I send out my deepest and most profound love to Lonny and his family at this time.

The Falcon Soars No More

            In the summer of 1977, I got a 1962 Ford Falcon that had seen its better days, but still ran and would suffice as transportation to and work. At the time, I thought back to when my aunt and uncle bought a new 1962 Falcon. I had clear memories of what one of those cars was like brand new. No, it didn’t have a tenth of the amenities that we have come to expect in cars today, but it was a solid car, comfortable, and reliable. As for my Falcon, it didn’t have those qualities by the time that I got it. Still, I was glad to get it at the time.

            When I got that car, I had to take stock in what needed repairing in order for the car to pass inspection. Mainly, it needed new brakes and a new taillight. Let me tell you what that car was like when I got it. It was white on the outside and red on the inside. The heater didn’t work, and the engine was woefully under-powered. But I only used it to go to work. At some time in the car’s past it had been in a significant accident. I knew this because the frame was bent. It literally went down the road at a slight angle. The rear-end was a few inches to the right of the front-end. It had also been dented on the driver’s side rear door. While it was a dent that would have required a new door, it would open and close and lock which meant it was going to stay the way it was.

            I had that car for about 18 months. During that time, I replaced some parts myself. It simply wouldn’t run without those parts being replaced. I replaced the solenoid, generator, radiator, and a couple of belts and hoses. The right windshield motor went out during a downpour one day and I had to replace that as well. As for the “amenities” on the inside, there weren’t any. It was made in a time before safety was considered. The dash was metal. No padding at all. The A/M radio was prone to turn off and on when hitting a pothole. And you just haven’t heard the “Star Wars Theme” until you’ve heard it on that 3-inch speaker in the dash. The windows were the crank variety and one of them was missing the knob. Therefore, when I was driving with the windows down and it started to rain, I had to do an impression of a contortionist getting that window up before the interior got soaked. The paint was faded and there was rust in places, but not too bad.

            I ended-up selling that car for $400 and then buying a 1966 Oldsmobile 88 for $500. The Oldsmobile was in great shape. It only had about 45,000 miles on it and everything worked including the A/C. Strangely enough, when I sold that Falcon it was bittersweet. Despite it having caused me some headaches, it had also been like a trusty old steed that you finally had to put out to pasture. I used to envision what that car was like brand new and this was aided by having seen my aunt and uncle’s Falcon when it was brand new. I could imagine it sitting in a showroom with the chrome bumpers and trim glistening, the paint sparkling in the overhead lights, and the interior filled with that new car smell. I imagined opening the hood and the engine being clean and all the parts were where they should be. But time and friction will wear cars out. And, as it happens, time and friction wears people out too.

            I remember very vividly being young. Especially from about 8-years-old to 18-years-old. Those were the days when I seemed to be able to do anything. I ran everywhere. I don’t run anywhere anymore. I had perfect vision. I’m blind without my glasses and I already have the beginnings of cataracts. I could plop down on the floor and sit in Indian style and then raise up without the use of my hands. If I plop down on the floor now, then I need help getting back up. I was thin as a rail, but strong. Today my strength isn’t what it once was. In fact, a cane goes with me everywhere nowadays. I used to jump rope, play chase, do somersaults, and was a master on the implements of a swing set. I didn’t get the way I am overnight though. Just 5 or 6 years ago I was out building fences on my place, clearing brush by hand, and routinely walked 2 or 3 miles a day hiking. I didn’t do these things with near the ease as I once had, but I was still able to do them. I didn’t get my first pair of glasses until I was 40 and they were just for reading. But over the past quarter of a century my vision has deteriorated. I hate to admit it, but so has my hearing. I have no doubt that part of this was caused by listening to music too loud, but it’s also heredity. It simply runs in my family. My mother was deaf by the end of her life. My grandparents had significant hearing loss as did my great-grandparent’s. I still hear fairly well, but I do find myself not quite understanding what someone says from time to time. Other things have gone wrong with my body over the years. Some parts just don’t work like they should, but I’m still here. The fact is time and friction have done what they do best. I know people my age who are in great shape and still do whatever they want to do. But I also know people my age who are in much worse condition than I am. Unfortunately, I have lost many friends and loved ones after their bodies wore out.

            I used to say think that we could be compared to cars. Some of us were born lemons and some were not. Maybe that’s true to some degree. I’ve known people who didn’t smoke or drink or do drugs or abuse their bodies and yet their bodies fell apart. I’ve also known people who smoked, drank, did drugs, and abused their bodies far too much and yet they are in better shape than I am. Go figure. I guess my point here is that we are indeed somewhat like that Ford Falcon. We started out new and in perfect condition. Then time and friction did what they do so well. The ironic part of it is for many of our years we aren’t conscientiously aware of our body’s deterioration. I still did pretty much what I wanted to at 30. But by my 40’s I started to notice things. Whoever said, “life begins at 40” must have meant to say, “A different kind of life begins at 40”.

            Don’t hear me moaning over all of this because I’m not. As the plaque on my wall says, “It is what it is”. Growing old and experiencing the decline in our physical abilities is just part of life. You can do some things to mitigate those changes, but they will get you in the end. I’m reminded of King David talking about when he was young, he went where he wanted to when he wanted to, but when he was old, he needed help going anywhere and had to wait for someone to help him. That’s just the way it is. I am a Christian. I am secure in my belief that I will live forever in a body that doesn’t deteriorate. But this life that we live here and now has its place. We have much to learn simply by living this life. Do I like the way my body is today? No way. But it’s teaching me a lot that I need to know. First and foremost is humility. There’s nothing like getting old that humbles a man. If we are paying attention, then we should be getting wiser with every year. And, it is preparing me for what I know is to come. I watched as my mother steadily declined over the last 25 years of her life. It was hard to watch because there was nothing that I could do about it other than be there for her and help her however I could.

            So maybe I’m not soaring anymore the same as that old Falcon wasn’t soaring by the time that I owned it. Maybe I’m going down the road slower than other traffic and my frame is bent causing me to list to one side. But I still get where I’m going, and I can still do it myself. I’ll just take life a day at a time and do the best that I can do. Someday I’ll be soaring with the angels and that’s something to look forward to indeed.

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