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James R. Stout


Day 14 and The Last Day of My 2019 Big Adventure

            Day 14 & Day 15, The Last Day of my adventure, were Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t blog those two days because I was quite exhausted. That said, let’s start with Day 14. We got up early and left Roswell on Saturday morning. We drove straight to Carlsbad Caverns and were there by shortly after 8 a.m. Sofia was so excited to see the caverns. We rode the elevator down 750 feet to the “Big Room Route” and started our 1.2-mile journey through time. I had previously been to other caverns during early times in my life. These included some caverns in Missouri and Texas. But none of them were as magnificent as Carlsbad. The formations and the lighting were amazing. Sofia was oohing and aahing the whole way. We took the self-guided route and it was great. I won’t lie to you that it was a bit taxing on me, but well worth it. I did use my cane to help with some of the inclines that were somewhat steep. Perhaps I sound like I’m old or something, but if you knew what I’ve been through for the last 21 years, then you would understand. But I’m proud to say that I was a trooper!

            Sofia marveled at the “Bottomless Pit” and some of the shapes of the large formations. One looked like a snarling lion. She was “educating” me on stalactites and stalagmites, and it was obvious that her love for science is great. After we finished the route and returned to the top where the gift shop, restaurant, bookstore and museum are located it was time to spend some more money! Gifts for Sofia’s sisters were the order of the day.

            We left the caverns about 11 a.m. and started our trek back into Texas. As we were going to my truck I pointed in the distance and told her that the stone mountain in the distance is called “El Capitan” and is part of Guadalupe National Park which is in Texas. She was excited that we were that close to Texas, but I told her that we would be taking a quicker route that would take us back to Carlsbad and through Hobbs, New Mexico and therefore not be in Texas for a while. The drive to Hobbs is rather uneventful, but 6 miles east of Hobbs we crossed back into Texas and Sofia was thrilled to be back in our home state.

            We took a short detour for a personal reason when we were about 18 miles from Big Spring, Texas. I have some cousins on my father’s side of the family that lived in a small town called Lenorah, Texas. When I was younger, we visited them on three different occasions. Once in 1962, once again in 1967, and the final time I went to visit in 1971. My aunt and uncle owned a general store, the only store for miles around, and it was also a grocery store, hardware store, gas station, and it lived up to its name of “General Store”. Although my aunt and uncle are no longer alive, as well as one of my cousins, I wanted to see how the little town was and get a couple of pictures. It was bittersweet going there.

            I was unable to locate their house and I believe that it has either been torn down or perhaps it is one of the overgrown and dilapidated houses that I saw. I did find the old general store. It has fallen into disrepair badly. It is obvious that it hasn’t been used for many years. My aunt and uncle died within months of each other between December of 1995 and the spring of 1996. By that time, my cousins had all moved away and were living elsewhere. To be honest, I have not been in contact with them since my aunt and uncle passed away. The old store doesn’t have any glass left in the windows, trees are growing over most of it, bushes are taking over the place in general, and it’s hard to imagine it being the hub of that community looking the way that it does now. But in my mind as I stood there taking pictures of the building I vividly remembered being 16 years old in 1971 and stopping by the store in my cousin’s 1957 Chevrolet, black and souped-up with fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror, on our way into Midland to “hang out”. Speaking of that car, it must have inspired George Lucas when he decided on a car for Bob Falfa in “American Graffiti”! We were all so young and all of life was in front of us. It was me, cousin Preston (he was my aunt and uncle’s youngest), and my cousin Mark. Mark is still with us and lives in Oregon. But both Mark and I are in our 60’s now and it’s sometimes hard to believe we’ve been through nearly 50 years since that visit. We three boys were the sons of three of four siblings. I still remember that one night as we drove back from Midland and stopped to look at the lights from up on the Caprock. The 8-track player was playing Humble Pie and when that was finished, we tuned in the local radio station and heard “American Pie”. A fitting tune it now seems.

            So, after our short detour we got back on the road and made it to Abilene. We found a decent hotel and both pretty much crashed early Saturday night.

            The last day of the adventure began early when we left the hotel about 6:30 a.m. We both were counting the miles until we got back home. I had arranged for my daughter and husband and Sofia’s sisters to meet us in Madisonville, Texas. This would save me from having to drive down to Willis and then another 60 miles back north to my home. When we pulled into the Sonic in Madisonville Sofia was so excited to see her mother and sisters. My granddaughter Helena ran to hug her big sister Sofia and little one-year old Ziva reached out for her big sister to be held. I am amazed at the love these three girls have for one another. They are such a blessing. I got me some big hugs too and we unloaded Sofia’s stuff and transferred it to my daughter’s vehicle. As they drove away right as I was getting into my truck to leave, I felt a lump in my throat. I was nearly in tears. I had spent half of my big adventure with Sofia and it is something that neither of us is likely to ever forget. Seeing my daughter and her family drive away I suddenly felt lonely. I live alone and have for 13 years now, but I haven’t really been terribly “lonely”. But despite the fact that I’ll see them this coming Saturday for a big birthday bash, I felt lonely.

            I drove the 37 miles to my house from Madisonville and it was on that drive that the first sprinkles of rain that I had seen in two weeks appeared on my windshield. Proof that I was back in East Texas. In fact, last night it stormed most of the night. Yep, I’m back home!

            My big adventure had been planned and it seemed like it would never begin, but now it’s over. I’ll always have great memories of the vacation. I will be sharing some of my photographs from the scenery that I saw as soon as I have a chance to load them into my computer and go through the 500 or so photos that I took. I want to thank you, my friends and readers, for being there with me on my big 2019 adventure. I may take a rest from my blog for a couple of days while I get things back to normal around here. But rest assured, I will be blogging and then some very soon. I will also be starting to work on my book. But more about that later. Take care and be kind to one another, love each other, and let me hear from you sometime.

Day 13 of My 2019 Big Adventure

            Day 13 of my adventure is done and I’m tired! We left out of Farmington, NM about 7 a.m. We mostly just drove today. The scenery from Farmington through where we exited I-40 at Clines Corner was still very impressive. But from Clines Corner to Roswell was pretty much nothing to see. When we drove through Lincoln County where the Lincoln County War was fought back in the late 1800’s, I had to wonder what they were fighting for. There were a bunch of signs inviting any and everyone to come see Billy The Kid’s grave. I don’t think so. I never have understood the fascination with a 21-year-old murderer. I have also felt the same way about Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols. Come to think of it, they do have the whole “pistol” thing in common.

            A good part of today’s drive today found Sofia wanting to listen to some of my iPod playlists of songs from when I was her age back in 1967. Well, who am I to disappoint that girl? So, we listened to “Georgy Girl”, “Windy”, “Come on Down to My Boat”, “I’m A Believer”, “Him or Me, What’s It Gonna Be”, and so many more. I skipped over the harder stuff. I just didn’t want to have to explain “White Rabbit” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to my 11-year-old granddaughter. After that playlist she wanted to hear what I listened to during my 7-12 years. No problem there. We hit the highlights from The Dave Clark Five, The Beach Boys, Leslie Gore, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Herman’s Hermits, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, and a whole lot more. Hey, it’s my job to teacher her the classics!

            We got to Roswell about 3 p.m. and grabbed a late lunch/early dinner – take your pick. Then there was a chore that had to be done. I had to wash a load of clothes. With that finished, I read by the pool while Sofia splashed roughly 50 gallons of water out of the pool. But she had a great time. After her swimming, I took her to Sonic because she had been begging to try a new “Cake Batter Shake”. She seems to like it just fine. Now we’re both ready for chilling out and then sleep. Tomorrow we will leave early and drive to Carlsbad Caverns in time to be there when they open. We’ll do the big room walk, probably buy more souvenirs, and then head back to Texas. I must tell you that I am very ready to get back home. I freely admit that while I love to go on these adventures, I love getting home even more. We’ll spend the night somewhere between Midland and Abilene and then drive home on Sunday. I’ll be incommunicado for a couple of days while recovering. But a week from tomorrow will be a special day that I’m looking forward to. My daughter is throwing a “Birthday Luau” joint party for my two granddaughters, Helena and Ziva, who have birthdays close together. Helena turns 7 while Ziva just turned 1. It should be a lot of fun, but Paw-Paw will be spending most of the time in the AC!

            I’ll say goodnight for now and thanks to all you who have been keeping up with the blog entries from my adventure.

Day 12 of My 2019 Big Adventure

            The end of Day 12 of my adventure finds me in a Holiday Inn Express in Farmington, New Mexico. It was a very long day, but oh so worth it. Perhaps the best part was when Sofia ran ahead of me to the top overlook of Inspiration Point in Bryce Canyon National Park and I could hear her make a sound like her breath was taken away. And well it should have been. We left Hatch, Utah at 6 a.m. this morning and got into Bryce Canyon NP by about 7 a.m. We started by driving all the way to the top of the park and stopping at several turnouts and scenic points. All of them were incredible. There is no artist that comes within light years of God’s artistry. We drove back down and went to Inspiration Point. This old man played hob at making it up the steep foot trail to the lookout, but I made it. Winded, legs aching, and knees screaming at me while I just said, “Get it done, Johnny Reb.

            The park was far less crowded than Zion NP was yesterday. Frankly, from what I could tell Bryce is far better. Perhaps it’s in the eye of the beholder. We went into the gift shop and spent some more money. Hey, it’s likely to be the only time I’ll ever be there. Although there were likely many other fantastic things to see and do, the fact is we had some time constraints. So, we left about 11 a.m. I will readily admit that I have tried to see too much on this vacation. I even had to cut out some of the stops that I had thought that I would make. These were done because you simply can’t see it all in one trip. My advice to anyone planning a trip like this is to choose less places, places that you must see, and do them. If you’re younger, then you’ll probably have a chance to see the other places later. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I just didn’t have the money or there were other reasons I couldn’t make trips like this. On this trip I had tentatively planned on at least driving through 6 NP’s. I will have made it to three by the end of the trip. That said, I saw some amazing scenery that is not in a NP but is incredible anyway.

            Today we drove from Utah, through a corner of Arizona, and into New Mexico. A long day to be sure. On the whole the whole four corners region is stunning. Heck, a trip just to that area would be a great vacation. We pulled into Farmington about 5 o’clock, tails dragging, but ready for a nice dinner. I splurged and paid a little extra for the hotel room because the hotel has an indoor pool that Sofia enjoyed a lot. Frankly, where she got the energy is still a mystery! Of course, she’s already sawing logs and here I am writing my blog.

            Tomorrow we’ll be driving down to Roswell, NM and we have an appointment with Mr. Spock and Chewbacca. Contrary to the Earthling movies, they are both alive and well. Saturday morning will be Carlsbad Caverns and by that afternoon we’ll be on the road and back in Texas. Boy howdy, am I ready for Texas!

            Well, I’m kind of tired, so I’ll say goodnight. But I’ll leave you with another Sofia joke.

            “Who cleans the oceans?”

            “Mermaids.”

Good night!

Day 11 of my 2019 Big Adventure

            Day 11 of my adventure is coming to a close. It’s been a long day, but a very good day. We left Ely, Nevada at 6 a.m. this morning. The drive between Ely, Nevada and Beaver, Utah was terrific. I wasn’t expecting that part of the drive to be so good. There were some parts that were vast areas of nobody and no buildings etc. Vistas of the highway fading into the distance between mountain ranges were stunning.

            We got to Zion National Park about 1 o’clock. The views of the scenery lived up to the hype. The only negative was the overcrowding. The main scenic loop was by bus only and had a couple of hours wait. We decided to forego that due to time constraints. We did go to the visitor center and spend some money on souvenirs, drive through some amazing scenery, and Sofia was thrilled with the over 1-mile long tunnel. We got to our hotel about 5 o’clock this afternoon and we’re beat.

            Some thoughts now on different aspects of my trip so far. First, the people. By and large the natives in all states that I have been to have been very friendly and pleasant to meet. The only thing different that I have noticed is that they are not as likely as Texans to say “Hello or Howdy” until I have done so first. Waving at someone who is coming from the other direction is generally met with a look of abject amazement. I have tried my best to be a good ambassador for Texas. As much as I have loved all of the places that I have seen, I must admit that I’m homesick for Texas (and my own bed!).

            Second, the gas prices have been considerably higher than Texas. I filled-up my tank in Texas for about $2.50 a gallon. The most that I paid was in California at $5.19 a gallon. Nevada was mostly in the $3.60 range and Utah is about $3.25 so far.

            Third, the state highways and roads are generally pretty good, but not as good as Texas. Interstates are basically the same. The state park roads are best in Nevada so far. Can’t say much else on that subject.

            I’ve noticed a few other things. For the most part, any old dilapidated buildings and sites are fenced off so that you can’t get pictures of them without the fencing in the pictures. We stopped at one in Nevada called the Stokes Castle. A mysterious and wonderful old site, but I had to stand on a rock and take pictures between barbed wire above the chain link fencing. We also found a ghost town called Frisco, Nevada. Some great old buildings and a mine long abandoned were interesting, but again fenced off. I understand why – vandals and idgits, but it still disappoints.

            Sofia has really been having a great time. She seems to be exclaiming “oohs and wows” non-stop. It’s a trip of a lifetime for her. Me too. We stopped and made PB&J sandwiches a couple of times and enjoyed the cooler weather than what we are used to. Tomorrow we will drive through Bryce Canyon NP and start heading back. We’ll still visit Carlsbad Caverns on Saturday and probably stop and check out many things along the way. I promise that I’ll be posting some pictures from the whole trip after I’ve recovered!

Goodnight to all and to all a good night!

Day 10 of My 2019 Great Adventure

            It’s hard to believe that I’ve now finished 10 days of my adventure. I still have another 5 days left. We left out of Carson City, Nevada about 6:30 this morning. I must say that Sofia is a trouper. She was ready to go and excited about the day to come. We started out by filling up on gas and then headed out on US 50 – The Loneliest Road in America. For the most part, it lived up to its name. There were great stretches where there were no cars or perhaps only 2 or 3 within sight. The scenery was great. It vacillated between long stretches of flat road surrounded by mountains in all directions and some steep grades through mountain passes. These passes were mostly over 7,500 feet elevation. Of course, we had to stop a few times to take some pictures.

            Sofia used her cell phone camera to take a bunch of photos as well as her Instax Mini camera that is like a miniature Polaroid. She is so darned cute. At one point she made a funny noise and I asked her what was wrong. She blushed and said, “Have you ever burped, and it came out your nose?” Cracked me up! We drove a total of 377 miles today, but a lot of it was on winding roads that you couldn’t go more than about 40 mph.

            We pulled into Ely, Nevada about 2:30. I had already made reservations at a hotel here and it was too early to just go to the hotel. So, we drove out to Cave Lake State Park. It is very different than most of the state parks in Texas. While there are some in Texas that might be as grand, most are not. This park road wound through some incredible mountains with huge rock outcroppings, beautiful trees of various kinds, some stunning purple, red, yellow, and blue wildflowers, and then there was the lake. The water is very clear because it is formed from melting snow. It has an almost emerald green hue to it. The only lake that I have seen that color before is Glacier Lake in Montana. Sofia had to dip her toes in the water, and she said it very cold. There was an unafraid mallard swimming nearby oblivious to the humans watching it. There was also a young couple with their large dog that had no problem swimming out to fetch his play ball after they threw it in the lake.

            We got back to Ely about 4:30 this afternoon and checked into the hotel. Unfortunately, the swimming pool is under maintenance, so Sofia couldn’t go swimming. But it’s just as well given how cold the water probably would be. According to the weather forecast here, it’s supposed to dip down to 42 degrees tonight! That doesn’t happen much in East Texas even in the winter.

            I am really enjoying my time with Sofia on this trip. Today was mostly a driving day, but tomorrow we will be going to Zion National Park and the Grand Escalante Staircase in Utah. Our cameras will be overheating by the end of the day! Well, I’m about ready to hang it up for the day. I’ll leave you with a joke that Sofia’s little sister, Helena, made up.

            “Why did the deaf Pterodactyl go to the bathroom?

            “Why”

            “Because it had a silent P.”

            Goodnight!

Day 9 of my 2019 Big Adventure

            Day 9 of my 2019 Big Adventure started with me going to the Sacramento International Airport and picking up my granddaughter Sofia. She flew out of Hobby International in Houston at 6 a.m. CST, made a short stopover in San Diego, and then up to Sacramento. It was her first time to fly by herself and she did great. Southwest Airlines took great care of precious cargo for me. I have to tell you that the ordeal of getting to the arrival gate added another level of gray hairs to my already gray head. I haven’t been to an airport since 2005. Things were considerably different back then. Getting the pass to go to the arrival gate wasn’t so bad, but the TSA part was demeaning and very confusing. The TSA workers were all very rude. “Move in closer. If your body can fit into a space, then do it!” I had to take off my shoes, belt, and hat and put everything from my pockets in a tray. The whole thing reminded me of one of those horrid scenes from the Holocaust where the people are herded into lines and all dignity stripped away. I have no desire to fly again.

            Aside from that negative, the rest wasn’t bad. We had to ride a tram and then a bus to get back to my truck, but it wasn’t too bad. After leaving the airport we set out on our adventure. We drove through the Donner Pass, Truckee, California, Reno, Nevada, and over to Virginia City, Nevada. The scenery was beautiful, and Sofia kept her camera very busy! She wanted to stop and play in the snow, but I explained that getting to it would be a problem.

            We road the Virginia City and Truckee Railroad for a short round trip from Virginia City to Gold City. Again, the scenery was fantastic. I had been to Virginia City once before back in 2005, but it has been greatly improved since then. After the train ride we drove through a fairly harrowing set of switchbacks to Carson City, Nevada. At one point we went down a 15% grade, Yeehaw! Given Sofia’s day started at 2:30 this morning we decided to stop and stay at a hotel in Carson City. She had a chance to swim in the swimming pool and enjoyed it greatly. We ordered some pizza and brownies, pigged out, and now Sofia is sawing logs while I am writing this entry. It was a great day and I am so glad that Sofia is able to be with me for the next week. I must tell you that she is one fantastic girl. In fact, all of my daughter’s kids (three granddaughters) are loving, well-behaved, and all-around a pleasure to be with. You can tell that there is some great parenting going on in their house. I love all of my granddaughters immensely and treasure each moment with them. Sofia is old enough to be able to do this trip with me, but someday if the Lord is willing, I’ll get to do the same for all of my granddaughters. Tomorrow will be mostly a driving day. Getting across Nevada will be via US50, “The Loneliest Road in America”. It appears there will be some mountain passes and vistas to enjoy. Check-in with me tomorrow night and I’ll tell you all about it! Goodnight, dear friends!!

Intermission Ketchup

            It’s time to catch you up on my adventure. I’m on the road again, but with my granddaughter, Sofia, with me now. I’ll tell you about today in a little bit, but first let me tell you about the “Intermission”. Last Friday was the first day of the intermission. It started out very simply. My cousin Frances and I spent the morning visiting. We talked about a lot of things and caught each other up on things. Frances and her husband, Don, are terrific. They were great hosts and treated me like a king. I even had my own wing in their house! After a lot of visiting, we went into Meridian, California which allowed me to get some great photos of the world’s smallest complete mountain range. It’s called the “Sutter Mountain Range”. In Meridian we ate lunch at a fun place called “Tracey’s”. The décor is in the style of the late 50’s and early 60’s. They even had a couple of booths made out of a 1966 Ford Mustang similar to the ones in Elvis Presley’s movie, “Speedway”, or the one with John Travolta, “Pulp Fiction”. There were also actual old 45 rpm and vinyl LP’s hanging on nails on a display. There were probably a thousand or more.

            On Friday night Frances and Don treated me to a dinner at their country club near Marysville, California. We had a great table that overlooked a putting green and fairway. After dinner, we went back to their house and visited some more. Speaking of their home, it is a beautiful place. Frances has a great eye for decorating. The backyard is actually an extended patio with water fountains and such. There are three 10 or 12-year-old redwood trees along with others. The front yard has a cherry tree (the birds like the cherries a lot!) and it overlooks a large pasture that sheep and goats are used to keep the grass down.

            Saturday, we drove to Napa Valley and I got some wonderful pictures of the vineyards and rolling hills. Although I don’t drink wine, I did purchase a couple of bottles as gifts for my daughter and brother-in-law. The only drawback to our day was there was way too much traffic. We never did figure out what the slowdown was about. On Sunday we drove over to Grass Valley and Nevada City in the foothills of the Sierras. I took some pictures of a long-covered bridge and some of the mountains as we wound through them. After getting back to their place, Frances and I sat down, and I interviewed her and picked her brain on our family history with regards to our fathers who were brothers. She has done a lot of research and I’ll be using some of the research that she provided to help with my book. The book will be based on our father’s lives from birth until the end of WW2.

            Well, that catches you up on the intermission. I want to thank Frances and Don for their hospitality and such a great visit. I look forward to seeing them again soon. I had heard of Frances all of my life but didn’t meet her until 2011. We saw each other again only two weeks before my mother passed away. Frances had come specially to see Mom. Frances and Don are living proof that there are indeed some great people living in California.

Days 5-8 - Intermission

Days 5,6,7 & 8 – Intermission

            I may not make an entry on all of the next few days. The reason is because I am at my cousin’s and we will basically be doing a lot of visiting and most of what we will do won’t be particularly “adventure” in nature. I will catch you up on my little intermission at some point. That said, anything could happen!

            I got to my cousin’s a little after 10 this morning and we’ve had a great time visiting thus far. I really like her and her husband, Don. They are good folks. Yes, Virginia, there are good folks in California too. They are conservative and Christians like me and we have a lot in common. I know that we will do some things besides just visiting, but we haven’t made any plans other than to take my granddaughter to see the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday once she arrives by plane Monday morning. There’s a lot of research that my cousin has done on our fathers’ side of the family and I will be collecting some of that for a book that I will be writing that will be fiction but based on their lives and events from their lives. Don is also a history buff (one thing we have in common is a degree in History) plus he is a writer doing a column for a local newspaper.

            Frances is a terrific person and I’m glad to have reconnected with her in recent years. She will be invaluable to my writing of the book. I hate to say it, but I just don’t have that much to write about tonight. Much of what we did today was talk about our fathers and past events. You’ll have to wait for the book to know about them. This is probably one of the shortest blog entries I’ll ever write, but I’m pretty tired and I think I’ll head for the bed. I hope your week is going well and I look forward to catching you up in a couple of days. Next week is going to be more big adventures only I’ll have my granddaughter Sofia along with me and if anything, that will really liven things up! Have a great night!

Day 4 of My 2019 Big Adventure

            Day 4 of the adventure is nearly over, and I’m beat. In the past 4 days I’ve driven over 2100 miles. That includes some sightseeing along the way as well. But it’s been a great time. I do need a couple of days of keeping my feet up some as opposed to all the driving that I’ve been doing. It’s heck to get old and I’m not even all that old. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I started out the day in Ridgecrest, California. I spent a great deal of the day on US395 in the Eastern Sierras. I drove on some excursions through a place known as The Alabama Hills. Movies such as “Bad Day at Black Rock” and “Joe Kidd” were filmed in the area. Speaking of Joe Kidd, I was on this dirt road there and I saw Clint Eastwood standing by the side of the road. I couldn’t resist the temptation to stop and say hello. He was very nice. He said that he was scouting the location to make a sequel to “Joe Kidd”, a movie that he made back in 1972. He said it will be called, “Joe Oldcodger”. He kept trying to clear his throat and I asked if he needed something to drink. He said he could sure use some cold water. So, I asked him if he would like for me to get him a bottle of cold water from the cooler I carry with me. He squinted at me and said, “Go ahead, make my day!” I hope you know I’m kidding. (Yes, pun intended)

            I’ve noticed that California has some strange customs and laws. For every mile on the highway there must have been 10 signs showing a person riding a bicycle and a caption that reads, “Share the Road”. They have these bike lanes on highways too. Now, I figure that they spent a lot of tax dollars adding those paved lanes and for the cost of the signs. But I didn’t see one doggone person on a bike anywhere. Another oddity is that stores and restaurants have big signs on them that say, “Only paying customers may use the restroom.” I bought a couple of rolls of Lifesavers today. The really amazing thing is they are letting people do their business in the streets in Los Angeles and San Francisco for free. I don’t know about some of these California ways. I do know that my cousin is normal. But she comes from excellent stock!

            There also seems to be a profusion of Subaru owners out here. They have bike racks on the roof, but apparently, they don’t ever ride them. I saw a couple of more Teslas today too. I can understand that out here given gas costs about $5 a gallon. Another thing I noticed was the difference in some of the big chain fast food joints. I seem to recall that the original reason for chain restaurants was so that a person could go into one anywhere there was one and get the food cooked the same way and tasting the same way. Not out here. I’m guessing there must be some laws that don’t allow them to put something or other in the food, so the chain has to make it different than say, in Texas. I would compare it to the difference between Coca Cola and RC Cola. RC Cola isn’t bad at all, but it’s not Coca Cola. I noticed this difference in a Jack-in-the-Box taco I bought on the go today. Just not quite the same.

            If my cousin that I’m about to spend several days with her and her husband reads this, then she’s going to probably be outdone with me over the next item. I pushed on today and I’m already in Sacramento. I’m not supposed to be here until tomorrow. But I didn’t want to impose on her for another night when she might not be ready for me yet. So, I pulled into Sacramento about 5 o’clock, just in time for their rush hour traffic, and found me a decent hotel for the night. This way I can sleep in tomorrow and won’t be beat when I first get to their house.

            That drive today was something else though. I went through some high mountain passes and the views were incredible. I wish they would spring for some guardrails though! They just have these puny little metal posts with a reflector on them. My Dodge Ram would plow through those and drop a thousand feet with ease if I wasn’t careful. And who would be nutty enough to drive those passes at night for the reflectors? Not I said the fly. Not me said the flea.

            All in all, the first four days of this adventure have been great. Terrific scenery and singing along with my mixes on my iPod. I got stuck on hits from 1968 today. “Get your motor running. Head out on the highway. Looking for adventure. In whatever comes MY way.” And with that song now stuck in your noggin’ I’ll bid you a good night.

Day 3 of My 2019 Big Adventure

            And so, Day 3 of my adventure is coming to a close. It was a day of extremes. When I left the hotel at 5:50 a.m. it was 47 degrees. When I checked into the hotel here in Ridgecrest, California it was 102 degrees. Of course, this is the desert. I also went from an elevation of 500 feet to over 8,000 feet today. My ears were popping like Orville Redinbacher. I had thought that I would spend the night in Lone Pine, but there are no hotels there that fulfill my expectations. They are all bed and breakfast types and I don’t much care for those. So, I checked for other towns not far from Lone Pine and learned that there are beaucoup hotels in Ridgecrest. As I drove into the town of about 29,000 people, I had to wonder why all these people are living in the desert. Another question was why everything is so new? Well, it turns out that the China Lake Naval Base is here. I guess I’ll never understand why there’s a naval base in the desert.

            Some of the scenery that I saw today was spectacular. But I have a bone to pick with the Arizona and California and Nevada highway departments. There were some incredible views that were just begging for me to take photos of them, but there are no places provided to pull off the road to do that. In fact, when there was a shoulder, there were signs stating that pulling off the highway for other than emergencies can result in a $1000 fine. There was this one place that was at the crest of a mountain pass with gorgeous views of the mountains and the desert below and a railroad track down in the desert. I would have loved to get a picture of that train from that vantage point. You could see the entire train with 4 engines, and I don’t know how many railcars. Which reminds me. I miss cabooses. Does anyone else remember how the guy in the caboose would wave at you when you were stopped for a train? The rail line that used to run near my grandparent’s farm had a small depot, but the train didn’t stop very often. Mostly it was for mail and there would be a hook that the caboose guy (what would you call him?) would hang the mail bag on as the train slowed down and went passed. All hail the Cabooser! Come to think of it, maybe that’s why he was let go. Too much booze and he might have been found hanging from that hook with his arms and legs flailing.

            I made several stops along old Route 66 today as well. It’s sad to see how some of those little places have nearly died out. A couple of the towns have “Historic Route 66” areas and they cater to the tourist and nostalgic crowds. I kept looking for the stars of “Cars”, but they were nowhere to be found. Not even Tow-mater. He’s languishing in a parking lot near Alto, Texas these days.

            I drove through a little slice of Nevada and in particular Laughlin, Nevada. The drive was beautiful but getting through Laughlin was a job. A light every 100 feet and Ski-doo rental shops for venturing out on Lake Mead seemed to be a big business. Of course, there were a couple of big casinos. I think I saw Elvis in a pink Cadillac pulling into one of those casinos. I could be mistaken. My GPS in the truck kept warning me that I was about to go for several miles on an unpaved road. I thought that can’t be right and it wasn’t. The GPS hasn’t caught up to the new highway. It showed me that I was driving out in the desert, which I was, but not on an unpaved road.

            I got to my hotel at a little passed 2 o’clock this afternoon. I thought about driving around to see what there is to see, but I have driven 1600 miles in the last three days, and I decided a nap would be better. It was. There isn’t much in the way of restaurants here. Unless you want fast food. That seems to be all that they have.

            I’m looking forward to tomorrow because it’s going to be more of a leisure day. Not nearly the long drive. I will be exploring some old film locations near Lone Pine. There’s a road that goes out to a back way to Mt. Whitney that looks interesting as well. I’ll be looking for Clint, Randolph, The Duke, and Spencer Tracy along the way. Tomorrow night I probably will stay in a place called Lee Vining, California. But I’ll play that by ear. I hope you are all doing well and thanks to everyone is keeping up with my adventure. I should have some interesting things to report tomorrow night. Say goodnight, Gracie!

Day 2 of My 2019 Big Adventure

            It’s nearing the end of Day 2 on this big adventure. I started out in Clovis, New Mexico and it was 52 degrees. Brrrr. By the time I got into Arizona it was 92 degrees. I had another great day today. I must admit that I’m glad to have New Mexico in my rearview mirror for now. There’s sumpin’ wrong with some of them New Mexicans. Before I left Clovis this morning, I stopped at a little convenience store to get some ice for my cooler. Some of them aliens from Roswell must a got loose. This one kid was tall and skinny, but how he stays that way with the stuff he bought to eat for “breakfast” beats me. Two 32 oz. bottles of some kind of fruit concoction drink, a greasy sausage and biscuit made right there on the original greasy flat grill (I am not sure it’s ever been cleaned from the way it looked), a jumbo package of Sour Cream and Onions flavored Lay’s, and a box of mini Chips Ahoy cookies. I completely lost my appetite at that point. I didn’t eat my beef sticks for a couple of hours! Then there was this guy who came into the store wearing a t-shirt that said “Rugged”. He had tattoos on his arms and he was wearing a cap that had a roaring bear on it. He bought a banana. That’s all. Just a banana. Then this “rugged and roaring bear” went out and got into his newish Honda Accord. I figured he would be on a motorcycle or driving a 1956 International Scout that had never been washed.

            I left at 6:03 this morning. The original plan was to spend the night in Gallup, NM, but that flew out the window when I got there by 10:30. I drove on and went for the 28-mile scenic drive through the Painted Desert and the Petrified National Forest. Fantastic scenery. There were all these turnouts and lookout points and I probably stopped at 90% of them. I met a guy from Vermont who was there with a lady (not sure if she was his mother or wife). The lady didn’t ever get out of the car. He told me she was sure proud of her purple Tesla. If she ever drives it in freezing weather, then it might be mistaken for a grape popsicle. There was quite a collection of petrified wood in the park. Some of it was huge. One tree had an 11-foot diameter at the base. Now, the truly odd thing was they get really rabid at the park about people taking some of the petrified wood. I can understand that completely. But they inspected my truck when I left the park to make sure I didn’t pull an Atlas (you know, the guy who held the world on his shoulders?) and pick up one of those big pieces of petrified wood and try to sneak it out of the park. I drove out and about 10 miles down the road there was a place called “Petrified Wood Company”. It was a huge facility where they sell petrified wood. I kid you not when I tell you that they had more petrified wood than I saw in the park! Hey, and it was all cleaned and polished up instead of being dirty like the stuff in the park.

            Well, I saw that I could easily make it to Flagstaff, AZ by 4:00, so I set my sights on that has my destination. The only detour I took was to go stand on a corner in Winslow. Arizona. Sadly, there was nobody with me to take a picture of the event. I pulled into the hotel here about 4:20 and checked in and took a short nap. I just got back from eating dinner and now I’m talking to you. I said I wouldn’t do it, but doggone if I didn’t drive another 500 miles today. Tomorrow I plan on getting to Lone Pine, CA. I haven’t decided which route I’ll take. I would prefer to not go through Las Vegas, but according to Google Maps, going that way is the quickest. I guess I’ll decide in the morning. Lone Pine is an area that I have long wanted to visit. Many of my all-time favorite movies were filmed there. Movies such as “Bad Day at Black Rock”, several John Wayne movies, and most of Randolph Scott’s westerns were filmed there. There’s a 22-mile drive that goes out of Lone Pine west and takes you to where a lot of the scenery was filmed for those movies. You bet I’ll be driving that drive!

            Well, I guess I’ll say goodnight now. I hope your day was just a fraction as good as mine was. I’m enjoying this adventure. I kind of wish I had someone along with me, but that’s the breaks. However, I’m flying my oldest granddaughter out to Sacramento next Monday and me and my cousins will be taking her to see the Golden Gate Bridge and some of the Sequoia’s. Then she’s going to ride back home with me for a week and we’re going to go to several national parks. I think she’s going to have a blast and it should be a treasured memory for her when she gets my age and remembers her Paw-Paw.

Day 1 of My 2019 Big Adventure

            I told myself that I wouldn’t do anymore of those 500 mile drive a days. I lied. On my first day of this adventure I left home at 6:26 a.m. The plan was to get to Lubbock and spend the night. I’m writing this from my hotel room in Clovis, New Mexico. Like I said, I lied. I drove over 600 miles today. My legs and feet are very outdone with me right now. Obviously, they’ll have to get over it. I don’t think I’ll be doing this many miles again in one day. I’m not the young whippersnapper that I once was! To be honest, I did well today. No sleepiness while driving other than that short detour into someone’s cornfield on Highway 84. Just kidding.

            So, let me tell you what I saw today on my escape from Texas. That’s really what it is if you live in East Texas and you’re going out west. You have to drive a long long way to get out of Texas. I saw a lot of cattle from home to past Abilene. I saw herds of white cows, black cows, brown cows, gray cows with humpty humps, reddish cows, and some honest to goodness great ole big longhorns. The cowboys 150 years ago who drove those critters from South Texas to Kansas must have been smoking some of that thar loco weed. Those critters are huge and I’m here to tell you they could whup Razorbacks, Bears, Cougars, and a whole regiment of Red Raiders. I enjoyed looking at them – from the other side of a fence in my truck with it in drive and ready for a short game of Dodge Longhorns!

            It’s been a long time since I drove out I-20 into West Texas and I had forgotten about some of the Caprock vistas. They shore are pert. (You’ll have to excuse me but driving through Texas triggered my Texas drawl) There were windmill farms all over the place. The dust was blowing like it was 1933. At first, I thought it was those big windmills. But I was wrong. As I drove through Abilene, I looked at the outside temperature displayed on my dashboard and it said it was 89 degrees. When I left home this morning it was 71 degrees. So, I’m just driving along, and I hang a right at Sweetwater and pick up Highway 84. I was really fighting the steering wheel with all that wind blowing. Before long the blue sky got all cloudy and gray. No rain in those clouds, but something was sure afoot. I looked at the temperature gauge again and it showed 65 degrees. A dadburn cold front had blown through while I wasn’t looking! There was this really big ranch along in there and it covered miles on both sides of Highway 84. That ranch must be doing quite well. Why? Because there were miles of cornfields that yielded to freshly plowed fields that will soon be planted with cotton. They had about 500 of those big windmills that probably helps pay for all their taxes and such. Then there were the oil wells. My goodness they were rather like the cows. Big herds of oil wells a pumping and making money like crazy. There were brown wells, black wells, white wells, yellow wells, orange wells, and I figure the rancher’s wife wanted those pastel green oil wells. It made me feel good though seeing all that land being put to good use. Growing food, providing energy, growing cotton, and a lot of people have jobs.

            I pulled into Clovis about 4:45 Texas time (3:45 New Mexico time) and checked into my room. I wasn’t hungry yet, so I did the next best thing to eating. I took a nap. I went and got something to eat about 6:30 (NM time) and now I’m all clean and ready for bed like a good little old man. I haven’t turned on the TV yet. I may not. I’m enjoying the sound of the trains in the distance. It’s nostalgic. I’ll probably do a little more writing, some planning for tomorrow’s drive, and I’ll try to finish one of my Zane Grey books. I’ll be up early again and on the road by 6:30. I will take it a bit easier tomorrow and make some stops for photography along the way. I plan on keeping this little trip journal for the duration so that you can make the journey with me. I hope you tag along. Y’all have a good night and a good week to come. Until later!

When I Was Seven

            If you’re over a certain age, then you will probably remember Art Linklater and his program “Kids Say the Darndest Things”. He would interview kids and ask questions and some of the answers were hilarious. Well, kids also do the darndest things. Let me tell you about one of the darndest things that I ever did. I was 7 years old and it was the last week of 1st grade. We had just moved to Bryan, Texas and were living in a lease house while my parents looked for a house of our own. I spent the last three weeks of 1st grade at Crockett Elementary in Bryan.

            Before school one day I was waiting with several other students outside the school and there was an older boy, probably about 10 years old, who was also waiting for school to start. I had never been that close to a person who had lost a limb. In his case, the boy had lost one of his legs. I was curious to be sure. I certainly didn’t mean to stare, but apparently, I did. Well, the boy got mad about that and reacted angrily. I told him that I was sorry for staring and I felt really bad about having done so. I have no doubt that he wasn’t really angry at me but was likely filled with anger due to his situation. I was used to my father wearing a huge brace on his leg due to a handicap, but like I said, I had not ever been around someone who had lost a limb.

            For the next week or so I considered that boy’s loss of a leg. I guess I felt a mixture of sadness for him as well as I had a lot of curiosity about how it must have felt to have only one leg. I never did find out how he lost his leg. We weren’t there long enough, and I wasn’t going to ask him. Frankly, he scared me. He was very angry and despite his handicap he was much bigger than me and then there were his crutches. As the end of school was drawing nearer my curiosity was getting worse. But how could I ever know how he felt?

            I mentioned earlier that we were living in a lease house at the time. We ended up living in that house for about 5 months. It was on College Avenue in Bryan, Texas and it was a fairly old wood frame house. It had a small living area, a small dining room, a kitchen, one bathroom, and three bedrooms. The oddity of that house was that there was no hallway. The bathroom was directly across from my room. There was a front bedroom (my sisters’ bedroom) with a doorway to the middle bedroom (my bedroom) which also had a doorway to the third bedroom (my parent’s bedroom. There were doors to the first and third bedroom, but my room was sort of just out there in the open. Not much in the way of privacy, but given I was just a 7-year-old kid I guess it didn’t much matter. What it meant was that if my sisters or my parents wanted to get to the small foyer by the living room or the rest of the house, then they had to walk through my bedroom.

            One night we were all getting ready for bed. That’s when I got the brilliant idea that I just knew would show me what it felt like to only have one leg. My grandmother always made us pajamas and given I was a growing boy she would make them a little large so that I could grow into them. My scathingly brilliant idea was to tuck my right leg up behind me and put on the pajama bottoms with my leg tucked up behind me which would render my right leg unable to move. So, I worked on that for a couple of minutes and for about 30 seconds I was proud of my brilliance. Except my brilliance was all too soon tarnished and shone for what it was. I tried hopping around on my left leg and it didn’t take long for me to figure out it wouldn’t be much fun at all to lose a leg. True, I didn’t have a pair of crutches to help me out, but I quickly understood that it would be very difficult to deal with. Then disaster hit. I tried to extricate my right leg out of the pajamas and my right leg was so tightly wedged in there that I couldn’t get my leg out. For about a minute I tried everything that I could think of to get my leg free from those pajamas. That’s when I panicked. I have no doubt that had the scene been filmed it would have made for a hilarious few minutes. To this day, I figure it must have looked like a film of Jerry Lewis in one of his situations.

            Finally, after trying my best to get a leg out (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one), I did the only thing left to me. I started to whimper and cry like a baby. Just when I thought I was getting to be a big boy! So, there I was hopping around on one leg with my other leg wedged into the pajamas, crying and whimpering and starting to really work up to a big blow when my oldest sister Barbara stuck her head through the doorway from their room to see what all the commotion was. One look at me and she burst out laughing and that only made me cry even more. Then she took pity on her brother and came to my rescue. It took a couple of minutes for her to help me get free, but free I was. It didn’t even enter my mind that I was suddenly standing there in my underwear in front of my older sister. I was just feeling a relief like I had never known before.

            Well, Barbara couldn’t help herself and she just had to ask how on Earth I had gotten myself in such a situation. So, I told her. She just looked at me like perhaps I truly was an alien and now she had confirmation. She left the room shaking her head. I put my pajama bottoms on the correct way and sat down on my bed to reflect on what had just transpired. First, I realized that the boy who lost his leg probably experienced panic way worse than I had just experienced. Except he was never going to get that leg back. Second, as silly as I knew that I must have looked to my sister, I realized that boy probably felt the eyes of people on him and them noticing his missing leg. That had to be difficult. As strange as it may seem, I did learn a little bit from that experience. Although that was 56 years ago, I have had a different view of someone with such a handicap than I did before that long-ago night. No, I can’t honestly know how it feels to lose a limb because I haven’t. My father lost his left leg two months before he passed away. I remember marveling at his will to live despite having his leg amputated after he had peripheral arterial disease. He was a fighter and then some. I think that most people who have lost a limb either are or will become fighters after they lose a limb. When I see our brave young men and women who return from serving their country after they have lost a limb or limbs or have been paralyzed, I can’t help but feel proud of them. I am truly saddened at what they are going through and if I had the power to restore them physically, then I would use that power liberally. But I don’t have that power and nobody else does either. It is my prayer that they will overcome their loss and will live rich and full lives.

            I did a silly thing back when I was 7 years old, but I learned a little bit from it. Children don’t always do the smartest things. But how else can we learn if not from our mistakes? I have often thought about that boy who would now be about 65 or 66 years old. I hope that he lived a full and rich life and that he turned that anger into something positive. I also hope that if someday I find myself in such a situation that I will not become bitter and will do my best to live a life that effectually renders others blind to the loss. But just like my 7-year-old self couldn’t truly learn how it felt to lose a leg simply by doing the silly thing that I did, none of us can truly know how it feels unless it happens to us. But we can be cognizant of the struggle of others and do our best to see who a person is on the inside without considering the exterior.

 

X-15 Moments

            The first camera that I owned was a Kodak X-15 Instamatic that used 126 film. It was a Christmas present from my parents in 1971. I had always been interested in photography, but the cost of a good camera was beyond my means. The Kodak was not what you would call a “good camera”. It was what it was. An easy to use cheap camera for taking snapshots. But I was mighty glad to get that camera. I used it for many years as a quick snapshot camera. I never believed any photos that I took with it were going to rival Anson Adams’ photography, but it beat having nothing.

            In late 1972 I started to date a girl that I would date for the next two years. She was my first love. That Kodak got a lot of usage during that time period. There were pictures of us going to a prom, on church youth functions, at the coffeehouses at school that I sang at, a couple of youth camps, and many everyday snapshots of us doing various things. Those photos came to mean a lot to me. They captured a period of time in my life that was very good. There was innocence in those photos. Two teenagers in love, laughing and playing and enjoying life to the fullest.

            But, as the old saying goes, all good things come to an end. Such was the case with that young love. When we finally parted I put the photos in a box and put the box in a closet. Not too long after that young love ran its course, I met another girl. We would end up spending the next 28 years together including nearly 27 years as husband and wife. That Kodak was again put to use early on as well as a newer version camera that was 110 film. By the 1980’s I had a single lens 35mm camera. I won’t go into the many other cameras that I have owned over the years.

            When my ex-wife and I got married she helped me move all of my worldly possessions to the apartment that we would be living in as husband and wife. In the closet of my room at home there lived that box of photos. When my ex-wife opened the box and saw those photos there was a look of sadness or perhaps fear on her face. She wasn’t jealous or anything, but for her to see those photos of me and my old girlfriend laughing, playing, and in some cases sharing an embrace or a kiss it was a bit painful for her. I loved my bride to be and I didn’t want to see her hurt. So, I threw the photos away. That could be the end of the story. But you know that it isn’t, don’t you?

            I’m not what you would call a “hording” kind of person. But I do save some things. I still have a bunch of old baseball cards. I have several books that go back several decades. I have two briefcases filled with poetry, short stories, and musings that I wrote over a period of years from about 1970-1980. I also have a briefcase filled with the negatives of every photo that I ever took with my film cameras. So, I must confess that when I threw away those photos in 1976, I was fully aware that I still had the negatives. Was that wrong of me? I don’t think so. Is there any difference in that and a pressed corsage in a memory book of a woman from when she was a girl? Besides, I didn’t take the negatives out and view them when my wife wasn’t around. They just sat there for 27 years.

            Sad as it is to say, that marriage died a long and painful death. I never thought that I would be divorced. I meant it when I took my vows. But the last ten years of the marriage were misery. I won’t go into all of that because it really isn’t important. I’ll just say that at some point in time my wife stopped loving me. She changed or I changed or maybe we both changed, but the truth is we stopped communicating. We became people that didn’t really know each other. As Neal Diamond sang in “Solitary Man”, “That died too.”.

            There I was in the fall of 2003 alone for the first time since I was a teenager. My kids were grown and had lives of their own. I spent a lot of time in reflection during that time. What had I accomplished in life? What was I going to do going forward? Who had I been before I was half of a whole? That last question caused me to ponder why I had not done things that I had planned to do. Why did this or that not work out? Who the heck was I? One day I took out that briefcase and started looking through the negatives. By that time there were 30 years’ worth of negatives. Only about 2 years of that time included photos of me and that first love. I gathered together negatives from that period of my life and had them developed.

            On the day that I picked the photos up I was almost afraid to look at them. Would looking at them cause me hurt from things lost? Would looking at them cause me to wish away the prior 28 years? That was something that I didn’t want to do even though there was a lot of pain in those years. Why? Because there were some good times too. My children were at the top of the list of the good things in my life. I got home with the photos and I sat down in my recliner to review them. The experience was not what I thought it would be.

            What happened was I found myself re-evaluating my past. To be sure, the pictures made me happy. There was a skinny me with hair on my shoulders, a devil may care look on my face, and confidence oozing out of my pores. A beautiful young girl was looking at me with love in her eyes. The fashions were hilarious, but I still remembered how cool I thought that they had been. There was the old 1967 Chevrolet Nova that had the front bench seat allowing that girl to sit next to me on our way to a movie or pizza or church or anywhere. It all came back to me, yet I didn’t have a longing to go back. Been there, done that. What I came away with though was a mixture of feelings from being homesick to being very glad that I wasn’t that kid anymore. I was 48 years old on the day that I looked at those photos for the first time in 30 years. I looked at my reflection in a glossy photo and saw myself morph from a kid to a middle-aged man. It was a melancholy moment.

            Well, I looked at the photos for a couple of hours and then I got a zip-lock bag from the pantry and put them in the bag. I took the bag and dropped it in the top drawer of my chest of drawers. It had been a nice trip down memory lane, but that road is a one-way street. If you spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror you will miss all there is to see as the road continues along it’s winding way. All that said, it was a comfort to know that those pictures had survived and were there if I ever needed a reminder of where I came from and who I had once been.

            Sometimes we just can’t seem to help ourselves. We make huge mistakes that years later we ponder on how we could have made such errors in judgement. I’m easily reminded that my feet are made of clay. I hadn’t dated for 29 years. It was something that I didn’t think I would ever do again. But I got lonely. Loneliness is no excuse for making stupid moves though. It was the summer of 2004 and a year since my marriage had ended. I thought that I would try the “internet dating” thing. What could go wrong? Don’t get me started. I went out on a couple of “meet for coffee” dates and nothing was happening. I was a naïve guy despite my advancing years. I hadn’t dated since the mid-70’s. I didn’t realize how much things had changed. I learned terms such as “luggage” and I learned that there were a lot of walking wounded souls seeking someone to share their pain. Or in some cases, someone to give pain to. I met a lady on one of the big dating sites. She said all the right things. She said she was a Christian. It was as though she had been researching who I was and then she put all that research to work in capturing her prey. Being a naïve soul, I believed her.

            I can’t say I used my brain too well though. But then, I was ripe for the picking. I hadn’t been loved for a long time. In fact, I had been convinced that I was unlovable. Yet here was an attractive woman, who said the right things, and acted the part that she played so well telling me that she loved me. I should have known better. It was a whirlwind romance. I knew better than to get in so deep so quickly, but I thought I was in love and that she loved me. Four short months later we got married. I am very embarrassed over this even after 15 years. Well, I knew that there was trouble in paradise within a month or so after the wedding. The woman that I had thought I had married wasn’t quite what she had portrayed herself to be. Still, I took my vows seriously. I was willing to work through this if she was. But her personality turned out to be altogether different than the part she had acted when we were dating. Within two months I started to suspect there were some serious things wrong with this woman. I won’t go into all of the details, but I’ll give you the salient points. After we were married, I learned many things about this woman that I should have known before we ever got so serious. But who was going to tell me? She sure wasn’t. I learned that she had been unfaithful to both of her previous husbands causing the divorces. I learned that she had been under treatment for being bipolar and manic-depressive and had stopped taking her medication when we got married. I learned that she had a violent streak. I learned that she had been arrested for DUI and had only recently finished her 3-year probation period. I learned that she knew the Bible very well, could quote scriptures by memory, and taught a Sunday Bible Study class, but she did not live the life of such a devoted person. She tried very hard to get me to stop having a relationship with my children. She was devious. This woman that I had married was clearly not the woman that I had been led to believe existed. What was I to do?

            I went to see my mother for Mother’s Day in May of 2005. I was gone overnight on Saturday and came back home late on Sunday. When I got home the first thing that I noticed was the den was filled with boxes and furniture from floor to ceiling. I quickly learned that this woman had packed up all of my belongings and the furniture that I had brought into the marriage. I was told that I needed to find another place to live. If she had her way, I would have lived under a bridge that night. But I reminded her that I was paying the lease on our townhome. She had quit her job three months prior because she was about to be fired for cooking the books where she was the accountant. I told her that I would find a place to move asap. I had literally had enough.

            I looked in the top drawer of my chest of drawers that night after locking the bedroom door and placing a chair up under the doorknob. I seriously wondered if she would try to hurt me during the night. That zip-lock bag of old photos had been in that drawer. It was gone. The next morning, I asked her about the photos. Had she done something with them? She smiled and it was a sardonic grin if ever there was one. Then she pointed at the fireplace and informed me that she had burned them. She seemed very pleased with herself. Well, it hurt, but not as much as you might think. What hurt most was that she had such a cruel streak and I had failed to see that it existed. I wondered what had happened to my ability to discern.

            I moved out 5 days later and I have never seen her since. She didn’t even bother to show up to court for the divorce. She signed the papers via mail. That year of living dangerously in my life was over. It took me a while to get my head on straight again, but I did. There are two lessons to be learned here. First, don’t even think about getting married to someone until you’ve spent two years dating them. There’s a great song from 1968 by Percy Sledge called “Take Time to Know Her”. There is wisdom in those words. Second, let the snapshots of your life be just that. It’s OK to look back and reminisce. I do it frequently. But there’s no future in living in the past.

            Oh, I guess there’s one other thing to remember as well. Keep the negatives. Without them you can’t appreciate the positives. And yeah, I still have the negatives to those old snapshots. Hehehe.

 

What's In A Name?

            What’s in a name? Jim Croce sang about the mere fact that he had a name. His name meant something. But names have come and gone through the centuries. I’ll be speaking of English names in this little piece. Around the time that I was born there were some favorite names that our parents gave us. For the girls it was names like Sharon, Karen, Sally, Judy, Penny, Ann, Barbara, Debbie, Donna, and many more. For the guys it was names such as John, Robert, James, Harold, Charles, Andrew, Carl, David, Edward, George, and many more. There were a few lucky kids who got newer “cool” names such as Steve, Keith, Kevin, Jennifer (once considered a risqué name), Sherry, Gina, and Tammy. I can remember there were some names that were considered “old” names and you pretty much didn’t know any kids with those names. Names such as Mildred, Grace, Velma, Sybil, Henry, Harry, Arthur, and Clarence come to mind.

            Then there were middle names. These often became the name that a person was more commonly known by. I’m a hybrid of that situation. I was named James Randall Stout. My mother wanted to give me a name from the Bible, but she also liked a fairly new name and she wanted her son to be called “Randy”. Therefore, to most of my friends and family I am called Randy. It’s not even my official name though! It’s a nickname for Randall. Some middle names just naturally went with the first name. Down south it wasn’t unusual for someone to be known by a variation of their first and middle name. My sister was Barbara Ann. Bet you can’t keep that song from popping in your head now! There was Betty Sue, but she couldn’t hold a candle to Peggy Sue. I’ll get more into it in a second, but a nickname for William was Billy and Billy got a real workout in the name department. There was Billy Joe, Billy Bob, and good ole Billy Ray.

            I would be remiss not to discuss the nicknames that have fairly well erupted from more formal names. Let’s start with Robert. Robert is afflicted with a multiple personality. He could be Robert when at a formal dinner, Bob by his fishing buddies, Rob by Laura or any such maid, and when he’s drunk, he’s just plain ole Burt. James may be called such when he is the master’s chauffer, but when he’s out playing sports, he’s Jim. Jim may not be quite long enough at times and when this happens, he becomes Jimmy. Harold is a prince of a guy until he gets to fussing and fighting and he becomes Harry when that happens. Sometimes when Harry is displaying his knack for being crude, he’s Hairy. Perhaps the queen of nicknames is Elizabeth. When she’s wearing her crown, she’s Elizabeth. But to her best friend she’s just Beth. To the boys she may be known as Liz and to that special boy she’s Lizzie. To her mother she may be called Bethie, and then when she wants to sing and dance, she is called Liza. Let’s not forget our old friend Thomas. He’s also known as Tom and Tommy. Unless he’s a she and then she’s known as Tommie. Tommie must be first cousin to Jonnie and Billie.

            In the late 40’s a new thing started with made-up names. Tab, Rock, Piper, and Dash come to mind. Dash was completely fictitious as he was a cartoon character in The Flintstones. But then later in the 70’s Dash was half of Seals and Crofts. Go figure. Made up names of today hurt my head. I forget now who said it in some movie, but “What’s a Moesha?”. My mother got to choose her own middle name when she was 14 years old. She had not been given a middle name at birth and when they finally went to get her birth certificate, she was told she could give herself a middle name. The Andrew Sisters were very popular at the time and Mom chose Laverne who was one of the three sisters. Which reminds me of a 2nd cousin of mine who was named Lavielle. It’s pronounced “Lav-ee-ell”. Must be French.

            But seriously, what’s in a name? I could mention a few names and you would likely have a mental image of the kind of person that would have such a name. Dare I mention Donald? A.K.A. Don, Donny, and POTUS. While some names carry a connotation that could be good or bad, the fact is that in our own little worlds, the world where we are known, our names reflect our actions. The guy down the street isn’t just Tom. He’s Peeping Tom and you keep your daughters away from that guy. My Dad had a good friend back in the 60’s whose name was Steel. Seriously, he was named Steel. He grew into that name. He was as honest as they come, and his word was like steel. There was a guy in school that nobody liked because he was a bully and very crude. To the small group of people who knew that guy back then, his name of Conrad was a four-letter word. Nobody wanted to be like Conrad.

            I mentioned at the beginning that Jim Croce sang about having a name. I understand that a lot more now than I did when I was 18. Over the years we all become known in our own little worlds for our actions and how we treat each other. I can only hope that when people hear my name that they have a good feeling about it. I hope that I leave my grandchildren a legacy of having a grandfather who had a “good” name. Next time you go to a cemetery take a close look at the headstones. There may be a Bible verse or something loving about the person that is buried there. There will be a birth date and a death date. But the main thing on that headstone is the person’s name. When we leave this Earth the only thing of importance that we leave behind is our name and what it meant to those who knew us. The fact is that when our names go on that headstone it’s too late to alter the impression of who we were and the name that we leave behind. The time to do that is while we are still here. One other thing. In the Bible, the Book of Life is mentioned several times. The only place that it really matters as to whether or not our name is written somewhere is in the Book of Life. You most definitely want your name to be in the Book of Life. If you want to know how to have your name written in the Book of Life, then read the following scriptures:

Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8, Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10, and John 3:16.

Let's Play In The Dirt!

            It may sound strange to the children of today, but when I was a child one of the things that we would do for hours at a time was to “play in the dirt”. In an age where children don’t spend a great deal of time outside, I’m sure that playing in the dirt sounds like something that wouldn’t be much fun. It’s not an iPad or all the gadgets that kids are addicted to these days, but it was great fun. There was no place better for me to play in the dirt than when I would spend a week with my grandparents on their farm.

            To the left of the farmhouse was a row of big cedar trees. They are still there but are getting very old. Under those trees there was a huge swing. It was made of wood and could easily hold 4 adults with a couple of kids in their laps. The double-a frame that the swing was mounted to was huge as well. The ground around this swing was mostly hard-packed dirt due to all the foot traffic it sustained and also due to being in the shade of those big cedars. When we would go spend a week with Grandma and Grandpa much preparation by them was made in advance of our arrival. Grandma would have fabric purchased and patterns ready to start measuring us for homemade clothes that she would have ready before the school year would begin. She was an expert seamstress and a prolific quilt maker. Many of her quilts would be composed of scrapes from the clothing that she made for us. Grandpa always had his own major project for us.

            There’s a part of the land nearby about ½ a mile from the farm that we always called “The John Russell Flats”. I know that it was named after a relative who once owned the land. He was either a great-great-grandfather to me or perhaps a great-uncle. I don’t really recall for sure. The most distinctive part of that land was the amount of dirt it had. By amount I mean that it was very deep. In the 1920’s the county built a road through the John Russell Flats and my grandfather also donated a right of way so that the road would cut down the eastern edge of his farm giving him access. The road was built on top of an old wagon lane that had been there since the 1800’s. Once that road was completed the amount of dirt in that road on the John Russell Flats portion was prodigious. During droughts the dirt would dry out considerably and it wasn’t uncommon for a vehicle to get stuck because of the lack of traction. You might say that it was the opposite of a muddy road. Grandpa had an old homemade trailer that he used for various projects around the farm. It was made with wood and the front and sides were about 3 feet high. He might use it for carrying hay, for carrying limbs and debris from trees that fell or were cut for one reason or another, and he would use it for getting a load of dirt from that stretch of road.

            He had a tractor, but it was a 1953 Allis-Chalmers and it didn’t have a scoop like the tractors of today do. So, he would use the tractor to pull that trailer down to a likely spot on the road and he would hand shovel a trailer full of dirt. He would then take it back to the house and unload the dirt by shovel and into a giant pile. Sometimes he would make two or three loads to get the amount of dirt required. The yard of the farmhouse was full of stickers. We called them cockleburs given that was the name of the plant that they came from. You didn’t want to step on one of those in bare feet. Not only did it hurt, it might call for the extraction of a splinter by way of Grandma heating a needle and digging it out. OUCH! Knowing that we rarely wore shoes in those days lead Grandpa to make a path with shovel loads of that dirt that would allow us to go from the front of the house to the dirt pile and swing area without having to put on shoes. I might add that by bath time on a given day the soles of our feet were black. But what fun we had getting them that way.

            When we arrived on Saturday to spend the next week with Grandma and Grandpa the dirt pile and pathway were ready for our use. Those weeks in the summer were golden times. Playing in the dirt was a great part of those times. Sure, we loved helping with the vegetable garden, feeding the cows, chasing the chickens and helping Grandma get the eggs, going into town one day and returning with some new inexpensive toy such as a water gun, cap pistol, sheriff’s badge, or a new comic book. But playing in the dirt was the best.

            I had a couple of toys that I left up at the farm for when I came to spend a week. Two of those toys were a late ‘50’s Tonka dump truck and a similarly aged Tonka excavator. I would build roads with that dirt using the dump truck and excavator. I would make bridges with an old set of Lincoln Logs and I had several small die-cast cars and trucks to drive on those roads. We would use a spray bottle with water in it to dampen some of the dirt and this allowed us to make all kinds of things. When we weren’t playing in that dirt we would be in the swing. There’s just something comforting about swinging in an old wooden swing in the shade of big cedar trees with the aroma of the cedars and the good clean dirt permeating our clothes and bodies.

            After the week was over and we went home, Grandpa would then get out his wheelbarrow and fill it many times with that dirt and spread it in low spots on the ground around the house, garage, chicken coup, and wherever it was needed. Nothing went to waste with Grandpa. When I think about how much physical labor Grandpa had to use in order to provide us with that play area and the dirt to play in, I marvel at his stamina. He would have already been in his early 60’s, my age today, and I can’t imagine how sore he must have gotten doing all that labor. But he was more than happy to do it for his grandkids. That’s what grandparents do unless they just aren’t able to. When my granddaughters come to see me, they have no idea the preparation that I have made for them being here. And that’s just fine by me. I do what I do because I love them. They don’t play outside like we did, but if they want to do something outside, then I’m ready for them. I bought a 4-wheeler last summer with them in mind. I also bought a seat that mounts on the back of the 4-wheeler. This will allow me to take them for drives all over my land. They finally got a chance to do that the last time that they were here, and I feel sure that neighbors in the next county heard their squeals of delight. The yard is always mowed and ready for them to play in the water or shoot their arrows etc. The house has been cleaned thoroughly for their visit and despite it not looking like it after about 30 minutes of their arrival, they have a safe and clean place to be. I will have gone to the grocery store and purchased things for them that I am informed by their mother they will like. She sends along some stuff too, but the things I buy for them aren’t generally things that I would eat. Lunchables comes to mind!

            The deal is I love those girls more than anything in this world. They bring me such incredible joy. The only thing that I don’t like is how fast that they are growing up. I love spending time with them. Isn’t that what being a grandparent is all about? I hope that one day when they are my age, they will remember with fondness coming up to visit with Paw-Paw. Maybe they’ll write about the fun times they had. I am so thankful and feel so blessed to have been allowed to live long enough to enjoy these special times. Here’s to all the loving Grandmas and Grandpas that we had and then we became. Now, let’s go play in the dirt!

 

These are the actual cedar trees that we played under. My grandfather planted them in about 1922. By 1960 they were already quite tall. Some of them are dying now and this accounts for the less amount of shade than they once provided. The old swing was set-up just in front of these trees and the dirt play area was roughly where there is now shade in front of the trees.

 

 

This swing frame is the actual swing frame that we swung on way back when. The original swing rotted away many years ago. It was much larger than the swing now being used on the frame. Sometime in the 1970's my grandmother gave our cousin the swing frame to relocate to the nearby farmhouse that he purchased from family members on my grandfather's side of the family. It is still there today and used by my cousins.

When The Flavor Ebbs Away

            I used to love to chew chewing gum. I especially liked those big balls of gum that were bursting with flavor. There was a manufacturer that sold them in a pack of 8 gum balls. The flavors included lime, grape, cherry, lemon, orange, strawberry, raspberry, and banana. I also loved the Fruit Stripe Gum sticks, Juicy Fruit, Spearmint, Peppermint, and all kinds of sour flavored gums. Perhaps one of my favorites were the tried and true pink bubblegum. I would take several pieces of Double Bubble or Super Bubble or the pink sticks found in baseball card packages and stuff my mouth full of them. But no matter how much I loved those different gums the same thing would happen after chewing them for a few minutes. They lost their flavor. And it wasn’t because I stuck the wad of gum to my bedpost and left it there overnight! All the flavor just got used up. I haven’t chewed gum for several years now. There’s too much expensive dental work in my mouth to tempt fate, not to mention the big hit to my wallet that would likely be sustained by chewing gum. So, I don’t chew gum anymore and I haven’t for several years. I got over it though.

            My love for music started early. My father played guitar and piano, my mother and both my sisters played piano, everyone in the family sang, and we had a nice stereo long before we ever got a color TV. Dad bought a used reel-to-reel recorder in 1965 and it was put to use recording the family singing church songs or Dad singing the country music he loved so much. I started buying records when I was about 11 years old and I spent most of my allowances, birthday money, Christmas money from my grandmother, and money I earned doing various odd jobs on new records. I wanted to learn how to sound like those records. I made an attempt at playing guitar when I was 12, but the only guitar we had was my Dad’s old guitar. It needed to be properly set-up which would have cost money. The “action” on the guitar was extremely hard. At the age of 12 I just didn’t have the strength in my hands and fingers to overcome that rough action. I already had a working knowledge of music given I had been playing piano for about 4 years. I had a growth spurt when I was 14 and I was suddenly able to press down on the strings hard enough to play that guitar. But it hurt. My fingers literally bled at times but callouses were building up on my fingers. I started writing songs when I was 14. I still have some very rough recordings made on that old Voice of Music reel-to-reel of my early attempts at writing.

            I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 15. It had much better action and my playing took off after that. By the time I was 16 I was recording my songs and I put to use some rather antiquated ways of making that old recorder do more than it was ever intended to. I wanted a 4-track multitrack something awful, but that was just out of the question. I managed to figure a way to modify that stereo recorder that allowed me to use “sound-on-sound” on it. This resulted in a finished recording that was always in mono, but I was able to play two instruments and sing harmony with myself. I still have some of those recordings, but they will never be heard by other human ears as long as I live!

            By the time I was 17 I got my first chance to record in a bonified recording studio. The recorder was a Studer 4-track machine and I was thrilled to record a 45-rpm record on the same kind of machine that all of the Beatles records through Sgt. Pepper’s had been recorded on. The song was a little song that I had written called, “Happy as Can Be”. It wasn’t great, but when I listen to that record now, I am impressed that a 17-year-old kid was able to write, produce, play the instruments, and sing that song. I kept writing songs and I was getting better all the time. When I was 21, I bought a nice reel-to-reel ¼ inch tape machine that had sound-on-sound on it that allowed me to record several instruments and vocals. However, it was still limited to mono for the finished product and with each new stage of the recording process there was a loss of quality due to the build up of tape hiss. Finally, at the age of 27 I bought an 8-track machine, mixing console, digital delay, and some excellent microphones. It became my home recording studio for the next 3 years. I was finally able to record my songs in stereo on several tracks.

            I had made a trip to Nashville in 1979 armed with some demos that I recorded in a studio in Houston. I was offered a job at a major company to be a staff songwriter. I had to turn it down though. I’ll not tarry on why. It’s not important now. I still dreamed of hearing my songs on the radio and of having “hit” records, but time was ticking away faster and faster. By the age of 30 I was the father of two beautiful kids. They were more important to me than a hit record. I was brought up being responsible and taking my responsibilities seriously. So, I knew that I would likely never hear my music on the radio. When I decided to go earn my college degree at 31, I sold all of my recording equipment and instruments except for one acoustic guitar. I still wrote songs during the next 5 years but recording them was just not possible.

            Then when I was 35, I bought one of those 4 track multitrack cassette machines. It was actually pretty decent, but it was nothing like the professional machines of the day. But it allowed me to record my songs again. When the kids and my wife would go to her parent’s lake house for the weekend and I had to stay home to work on Saturday, I would spend Saturday night recording. Over the next few years I went through several different “Porta-studios”. I still have one of those machines now, but I don’t use it. It’s a 24-track machine. If I had that machine when I was in my early 20’s there’s no telling what I would have gotten recorded! In 2009 I went digital. I started using what is known as a “DAW” software program. The tracks are unlimited. The effects available are unlimited. I started recording my first, and likely my last, CD using that program. I was still working my day job, so it took me nearly a year to record 15 songs. Only 12 of those songs ended-up on the CD. I took the mixed recordings to a professional mastering lab and had them mastered. I paid for 1000 of the CD’s to be made with professional artwork included. That CD is called “Sojourn of Love”. I’m proud of the quality of those recordings but listening to them again it is clear to me that I had been using that recording process as a kind of therapy to work through some of the hard lessons I had learned in life. I sold a few copies of that CD via iTunes and Amazon, but there was no advertisements or live performances to help sell them.

            From 2011 through 2016 I still wrote and recorded many new songs. I’ve never released those songs and frankly some of them are the best songs and recordings that I’ve ever made. But recording them had become a much-loved hobby by that time. The year 2017 was a very difficult year. My father had passed in June of 2016 and my mother’s health was failing. She would pass away in March of 2018. My sister passed away in January of 2018. Although I had retired in August of 2017, I had too much on my plate to record much. But I did manage to record a few songs from 2017 through February of this year.

            Now, here’s the truth. I have all the recording equipment that I could ever want. Several guitars, my DAW and computer, a midi-keyboard to play hundreds of different instruments direct to the software, beaucoup drum machines, percussion instruments, harmonicas, and if I look hard enough there’s probably a kitchen sink in that room somewhere. But there’s a problem now. Remember how that gum would lose its flavor? That’s what has happened with my making music. I still love music but going in that studio and recording has become more like work than something that holds passion for me. Its sad in many ways. I recorded 3 songs in January and February and try as I might, I just couldn’t get that old excitement back. The recording process has become tedious. It is no longer what drives me and to put it bluntly, it is not my passion anymore. I have spent nearly 50 years writing and recording my music and I managed to write about 600 songs and record over 100 of them. But I haven’t recorded anything for 3 months now and I honestly don’t miss it. In fact, the thought of going in that studio of mine and doing what it takes to arrange, produce, and perform the many instruments and vocals necessary for a song just makes me groan. I would much rather write my stories and do my photography now. I’ve changed. I’ll be 64 years-old in September and I haven’t performed live for many years. To spend all that time and effort to record something new and then to have no one to listen to it just makes my brain hurt. I believe in my songs and my music. I believe that it is very good. But I just don’t have the drive anymore. There’s another reason too. Arthritis has begun to affect me. There is a lot of pain in my hands when I play the guitar or piano now. And, the only thing that eases that pain is an occasional shot of steroids from my doctor. But I can’t take those shots anymore because it raises my blood sugar too high. Getting old is not for the weak.

            So, I am hereby making an announcement of sorts. I won’t say never because I learned that the surest way to make something happen is to say never, but I am pretty much hanging up my guitars and moving on to the next phase of my life. I’ll always be proud of those songs and those recordings. They will be something that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to listen to and to know what the old codger was all about in his younger and middle years. How I wish I had some recordings of my father when he was in his 20’s and playing in a band. From what I was told he was a gifted trumpeter and played country music and big-band music with equal abilities. At least my descendants will have a way of hearing what I sounded like. I am going to attach a link to this blog entry that will be for a slide show on YouTube of my last recording. You’ll also be able to listen to several other songs that I have previously posted there. This last song isn’t a new song though. I wrote it when I was 23 years old. I wrote it for my then wife who is also the mother of my two children. It’s in the 50’s style of music. As simple as the song may sound to you, it wasn’t that simple to record. There’s two piano parts, three guitar parts, bass, drums and vocals. I think it’s a fun song to listen to and the kind of song that you end up singing along with. But it’s likely to be my last recording. It’s going to take a miracle for me to see a return of the sweet flavor that I once had for recording my songs.

 

P.S. Just in case you are wondering, I am not hung-up on my ex-wife. I will always cherish those early days and the way we were, but that was over many years ago. I do hold affection for the girl that I once knew, but just as I am not the boy that once was, she is not that girl. We had some good years and the best of it all is the two children and now 5 grandchildren that we have.

 

Thirst

            I watched an old movie tonight in which there was an extended scene where a group of people were stranded on foot in a burning desert. The camera would pan out and show them trudging along in the sand with the wind blowing making waves in the dunes. In the far distance were barren mountains with no hint of water to be found there. The group had lost their horses and all of their canteens and water bags were kept on the horses. Have you ever really been thirsty and so hot that you couldn’t even spit? That’s how this group was by the time they finally got to a tinajas. They all ran to the water and took long drinks and splashed the cool water onto their heads and faces.

            In 2012 I found myself in a similar situation. I was out in far West Texas and had taken it upon myself to go on a long hike. The trail was rocky and steep. Up and down it went. Nobody else was anywhere nearby. Frankly, it was a stupid for me to go alone. Oh, I took along a large water bottle that I had slung around my neck and I was using a walking stick to help navigate the trail. I couldn’t do that hike today due to health issues with my legs. I have lost too much muscle in my legs in the last 7 years. That’s life. But on that day, I could still do the hike. I had gotten to the top of part of the trail and there was a great vista before me. I spied a large boulder near the edge of a long drop-off, and I decided to take a rest on that boulder. I leaned up against the boulder and stood there enjoying the wild country before me. I took the water bottle from around my neck and as I went to unscrew the lid from the bottle, I developed a bad case of butterfingers. The end result was I dropped the water bottle and before I could pick it up the darned thing rolled right off the edge of that drop-off. I’m guessing it was about a 200’ fall. There was no getting that bottle back. The trail spiraled upward in another direction. I was already thirsty and hot and now I didn’t have any water. For that matter, I had nothing at all to drink. There was only one thing to do. Go back to my truck which was about 5 miles down that trail.

            I started back down and with each step I became hotter, thirstier, and weaker. Not another soul was coming back up that trail. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I started making more and more frequent stops to rest. I knew that I was becoming dehydrated. At least I was wearing a large rimmed safari hat. But even it didn’t help much. My feet started to hurt very badly. I didn’t know it then, but the problems with my feet and legs were probably already beginning. They didn’t become a real issue for me until about a year ago.

            The sun didn’t seem to want to budge from the sky. It kept bearing down on me and before long I was praying for God’s help in getting back to my truck. I likely made some promises and tried to barter with God. But in the end, I knew that all I could do was keep going and if God wanted me to make it back, then I would. I finally got to a point where I could see my truck off in the distance. The sun was bouncing off the windshield and looking at it was difficult to do without hurting my eyes. I was within ½ a mile of the trail head and where my truck was parked when I saw in the middle of the trail about 20 feet ahead a large rattlesnake crossing the trail. There was just no way that I could ever outrun that snake if I needed to. I wasn’t wearing snake boots either. Another dumb move on my part. After about 10 minutes of me standing there in the sun the snake appeared to move off behind a rock. But I couldn’t see if it kept going or was just sitting there ready to pounce on me when I walked by. Finally, I gripped my walking stick and slowly walked down the trail. I hoped I would be quick enough with the stick if the snake was still there and decided to strike. As it turned out the snake was long gone. I still had a bit to go, but the closer I got to the truck, the more invigorated I became.

            I stepped off the trail onto a smooth dirt path that lead to the parking area. When I got to that truck, I slung open the rear door and opened the ice cooler on the back floorboard. I had 15 or 20 bottles of water in that cooler and they were all well iced down. I probably shouldn’t have had them iced down because it would have been safer to drink water less cold than that, but I didn’t think about that when I headed out that morning. I unscrewed the cap on the first bottle and drained it as fast as I could swallow. I downed another one when I finished the first bottle. I took the third bottle and after removing my hat I poured it on top of my head. I didn’t care what I looked like. I poured another one all over my neck and face and upper torso. I grabbed another bottle, got in the driver’s seat of the truck, started it up, and turned the a/c on “Max”. I felt alive again.

            After watching that movie tonight, I could almost feel how I felt that day 7 years ago. In our modern times of today we take water for granted. Most of us have water easily available in our homes. Many of us have cold water dispensers in our refrigerators. Heck, I have my regular refrigerator and a little one out in my shop. There’s cold bottles of water in both. I could go right now into one of two bathrooms and stand in a shower with water drenching me. I could go outside and do the same with hoses from the outdoor spickets. The point is I don’t have to worry about having water here. There’s even a cold artesian spring on the property with piping that we laid and a spicket to draw water from the spring.

            There must be hundreds of things that we have readily available to us and we take them for granted. All this is making me thirsty! Now, what else do we take for granted? You may not want to admit it, but at some point in your life you have probably taken a friend or family member for granted. You may subconsciously think that they’re always there. Maybe they always have been. But then one day they’re gone. We told them we loved them often, but now that they’re gone, we miss them so very much. A dear friend of mine from high school lost her daughter about a 12 years ago. She misses her daughter so very much. I doubt that she ever took her daughter for granted because that’s not how my friend is, but she sure didn’t expect to lose her so suddenly and without warning. They’ll see each other again in Heaven, but in the meantime my friend will miss her daughter every day. I have never lost a child and I am thankful for that. They say that losing a child is the worst kind of loss because we feel like we shouldn’t outlive our children. I have experienced a great deal of loss though in the past few years. My mother, my father, my sister, my son-in-law, two uncles, and three aunts all passed within a two-year period. Sometimes I feel another kind of thirst as opposed to the kind I felt that day 7 years ago. I thirst for my loved ones that have passed away. But there’s no way I can quench that thirst for now. I’ll see them again someday, so I’ll just have to be satisfied with that. But I will never take for granted my friends and family. They are more precious than anything. If there’s something that has come between you and a friend or family member and you don’t speak to each other now, then I urge you to reach out and tell them that you love them no matter what your differences may be. Don’t put it off another day. Let them know that you love them. There’s no time like the present.

The Battle of Toledo Bend

            Experts say that our brains are not fully developed when we are in our teens. They say that this is especially true for the rational part of our brain. The brain doesn’t become fully developed until about the age of 25. All of this is pretty much supported simply by observing the behavior of a teenager. And, if we are honest with ourselves, then we can look back on our own teenage years and see ample evidence that we were not thinking rationally. Such was the case in what I call “The Battle of Toledo Bend”.

            It was in July of 1970 and the battle was fought at the Toledo Bend Reservoir in East Texas. It was a horribly lopsided war. On one side there were roughly 2 million blood thirsty demented and homicidal combatants. On the other side there were two 14-year-old boys. Fine upstanding American boys they were. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. These two boys were me and my cousin Phil. As it is in any war, there are things leading up to the conflict.

            A weekend of camping was to be enjoyed by the “men” of our two families. There was my father and my Uncle Victor. They were great fishermen and Uncle Victor had the bass boat to prove it. Next came my cousin David who was 2 years older than Philip and me. David was never really a teenager. He was an anomaly of the strangest kind. In what way, you ask? He was a jock and a scholar. These two characteristics borne in the same person still confuse scientist today. David had no problem whatsoever in getting out and playing football until all the salt tablets were consumed. He could sweat like all jocks sweat and his weightlifting abilities were prodigious. However, David was spoiled to air conditioning and he would not remotely consider sleeping outdoors when there was air conditioning available. Which brings us to the camper. It was a camper that fit in the bed of Uncle Victor’s truck. It was one of those kind that when you stopped for a night of camping it would raise up allowing a grown adult to easily stand up inside. There were only three beds though. Might I remind you that there were five of us. So, we also carried along a tent. It was this massive tent that the corps of engineers might be required to assemble, but lacking their aid, we somehow or other got it set-up. It had screen windows and a screen door. Well, there were no real doors, just flaps that would unzip allowing a breeze to come through the screens. This tent was to be mine and Phil’s “Hotel Crapiness”.

            Besides the bass boat, we also brought along a 10’ aluminum boat with a 3-horsepower outboard motor. A speed demon it was – not. After we got everything all set up, we all went for a ride in the bass boat. A boat with two chairs and a bench for two in the middle. Do the math. Someone was going to have to either sit on the floor or on the front of the boat. Guess who was elected for the front of the boat? There were no hand holds because nobody in their right mind was ever supposed to ride sitting up there on the front of the boat. Yet there I was holding onto two thingamabobs for tying ropes to a pier as we zipped along the lake. Each time the front of the boat slapped down on the water I thought I was a toast. In a way, I’m wondering now if my father and uncle’s brains were fully developed considering they encouraged the seating chart.

            Later that day Phil and I put the aluminum boat in the water and ventured out on the lake. Remember that 3 horsepower engines? It had a little glitch. I’m not a mechanically minded guy, but as it was explained to me there are these things called “cotter pins”. This sweet little engine kept breaking a cotter pin that was essential for the propeller blade to turn. So, we had a box of these little pins on board. We never knew when a cotter pin was going to break, but when one did break, we were forced to replace the cotter pin in order to continue our journey. The worst part of it was the engine wouldn’t lift far enough out of the water to change the pin. Philip being the expert mechanic, was elected to jump in the water and hold his breath long enough to change out the pin.

            Now you have a good idea of the scene that would lead up to the battle to come. We cooked hot dogs outside that evening and at some point, either Phil or I left the door flap of the tent wide open. This would prove to be a mistake of immense proportions. After flirting with the two girls whose family was camping next to where we were, it was about time to try to get some sleep. My father, Uncle Victor, and David retreated to their nice air-conditioned camper for a cool night’s sleep. Phil and I entered our tent and soon found out that we had been invaded by a great horde of mosquitos. We tried to get to sleep, but between the mosquitos and the humidity and the 90-degree temperature it was virtually impossible. The worst of the mosquitos were the dive bombers. There in the dark you would suddenly hear them buzzing and diving at any uncovered patch of skin. All we had to fight them with were our hands. There was a whole lot of slapping going on. After it became apparent that we needed to call in some heavy artillery, we set into motion our plan of attack. There was just one major problem. We had forgotten to bring any mosquito repellent with us. Here’s where the rational part of a 14-year-old brain turns left when the sign clearly says, “Keep to the Right”.

            We had enough money to buy some “Off”, but there was a supply line problem. The problem was the “Off” supplies were at the marina. The marina was on the other side of the lake. There was only one thing to do - Get in the that little boat that hated cotter pins with no life jackets, and only one small flashlight, and cross that stump infested, snake infested, and for all I know alligator infested lake. And so, Captain Phil and First Lieutenant Randy set out on their midnight ride.

            About 2 hours later we arrived back at the campsite. We had survived two cotter pin replacements, untold snakes, and the last half of the return trip with a flashlight that needed new batteries. Exhausted as we were, we sprayed ourselves down with “Off” and fairly well glistened in the moonlight. We entered the tent and soon the mosquitos realized that they had lost the war. Sometime in the next hour we fell asleep. Captain Phil was ready to go fishing with my father and Uncle Victor early that morning. David was going for a hike to study rocks. Me? Well, First Lieutenant Randy flirted with the girls next door. I cringe now to think of how I must have looked after the night that I had just experienced.

            There were many things that I did as a teenager that I would never dream of doing today. Some really stupid things. While some of them were ultimately harmless and merely goofy, there were others such as taking out across that lake without telling anyone, without life preservers, without proper lighting in the dark, and a very real possibility of a tragedy in the making. If there’s anything that I’ve learned by reaching my age it’s that I need to monitor my grandchildren closely when they come to visit me here in the country. This will continue for many years. I want them to learn to do many things outdoors, but I want them to do it safely and to understand that if there is any question about doing something, then come ask me. I’ll always be there for them. Thinking back on that night nearly 50 years ago I remember that our reasoning for doing what we did was because we were afraid to wake-up our fathers and disturb them. I am absolutely sure that had we gone to them with the problem they would have gladly provided a safer way to get that “Off”. In fact, there was probably a can or two inside the camper. But we didn’t think rationally about the situation. Sure, it turned out to be an adventure, but it could have turned into a tragedy. I know teenagers think that they hate rules and restrictions, but the truth is most of them want the boundaries. They want to know that their parents will be thinking rationally and that their parents just might have the answers to a problem. Oh, they’ll not admit to this is easily, but when a friend of theirs suffers a horrible injury, dies from a risky behavior, or makes a mistake that alters their life forever, they are glad for the rules that keep them safe.

Typing 101

            The first typewriter that I ever used was an IBM monstrosity that my mother had. Mom started typing in high school in the early 40’s and after graduation in 1946 she went to a business school where she sharpened her typing skills as well as she learned to use several secretarial machines such as adding machines and dictation machines. She also became extremely skilled in shorthand. By the time she graduated from the business school she was typing 128 words a minute. This was on manual machines! At some point in time she purchased a used office desk that a large IBM machine attached to it. You could pull up on a handle and the machine would turn upside down and flip down allowing the desk to have the entire desktop for regular usage. When she needed to type, she would flip the top up and the typewriter would appear in place of the center of the desktop. She had this desk until I was grown. But by that time the typewriter was rarely used.

            I took typing as an elective in high school and we learned on IBM electric machines. They were likely made in the late 60’s, but they did the job. I was typing about 80 words a minute after a year of taking the class. I would use Mom’s machine at home for school projects and for my poetry. For Christmas in my senior year my parents gave me a Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter. I put that typewriter to quite a bit of use. I wrote short stories and poetry and used it for schoolwork. I hit on financial hard times in 1980 and that typewriter found a new home at a pawn shop in Garland, Texas. These things happen.

            I started to write my first book in 1984 and I was having to hand write the manuscript. I still have a deformed right middle finger from all that handwritten product! I sold some of my music equipment and used the money to buy a new Smith-Corona portable typewriter. Life kind of got busy though and that first book never got any further than a rough draft. We had our son in April of 1984 and our daughter in August of 1985. It was after they came along that I decided I needed to do something better to provide for my growing family. So, in 1986 I started college. I’ve written about that experience before and won’t delve into it now other than to say that the new typewriter got me through college. Research projects and the like were made easier by having that typewriter.

            Let me veer sideways for a second now. Those typewriters, as great as they were compared to handwriting things, were far from being easy to use. Ribbons had to be changed and mistakes required white-out or the little white tape that you inserted where the mistake was and typed the incorrect characters which caused them to mostly disappear. But for those really important projects for the professors who would count against you for having mistakes that were still visible to the naked eye despite the usage of white-out, the only thing to do was to keep typing the pages over until there were no mistakes. Very time consuming and frustrating it was. Somehow or other I muddled through it and managed a 3.5 G.P.A.

            I graduated from college in 1990 at the age of 35. I still had the yearn to write. As a graduation present, I got a new-fangled thing called a “word-processor”. It was made by a company called “Brother”. It had a 5” monochrome screen (amber, not green), used 5” floppy discs, and had a keyboard. Frankly, I think it contributed to my vision going south! It didn’t take long for me to decide that I liked word-processing, but not the 5” screen. So, for my 36th birthday in 1991 I got my first PC. It was what we used to call a “clone” which meant that it was a knock-off of the IBM computer. It had what was known as a “286” processor. It had a whopping 40-megabyte hard drive and at the time it just didn’t seem possible that you could fill that hard drive up. Heck, one raw photo file is more than 40 megabytes today! When I bought that computer, I also bought the most popular word-processing program at the time. It was called “WordPerfect”. Of course, I bought a new dot matrix printer to print out all my “stuff”.

            Technology kept progressing at leaps and bounds and Microsoft pretty much blew away the competition such as WordPerfect. In the 28 years since that first computer, I have owned about 10 different desktop computers. Each one had more bells and whistles than the one before and words like gigabytes and terabytes and Pentium became common. I tried a Mac once too, but it was not to my liking. It was such a beast. That thing must have weighed as much as a VW Beetle. I hated having to move it. Today I own two desktops and two laptops. The funny thing is I don’t see me needing anything faster or bigger or better than what I have now. Oh, they’ll likely crash and burn one day, and a new computer will be necessary, but Microsoft Word is all I need to write these days.

            In 2013 one of my uncles passed away at the age of 90. After his funeral my aunt told me that she had some things that Uncle Paul had wanted me to have. There was an old wooden box that he had made in high school wood shop that had always held my grandmother’s photos, the last pocket watch that my grandfather had owned, an antique wooden duck call, a bunch of old photos, his dog tags from WW2, a pocket knife that had been my grandfather’s, and then the biggest item was his 1938 Royal manual portable typewriter. I have it on display on an old typing desk at my home. Uncle Paul had gotten that typewriter when he was a senior in high school in the 1938/1939 school year. He used it when he took classes at Sam Houston University in the early 40’s. Besides being a keepsake and an antique, that typewriter  probably saved my uncle’s life during WW2. When he joined the army in 1942, he expected to be in the thick of the fighting. But those typing skills convinced the army that Uncle Paul could be put to better use as a clerk.

            He went through boot camp and was most definitely a soldier, but he ended up being a clerk for the most part. I remember him telling me stories of hearing the shells pounding the Germans just a few miles away as he typed reports that were required. He carried a rifle in one hand and his typewriter in the other. He said that they didn’t know what would happen next and it was always possible that the Germans could push back and overrun the soldiers on the front. That would have brought them to where my uncle and the rifle would take over in place of the typewriter. Fortunately, that never happened.

            I’m telling you this story because I wanted to point out that you just never know what skill or skills that you learn along the way in life that can become very important to you. Typing hasn’t saved my life like it did for my uncle, but I had no idea 48 years ago that learning how to type was going to get me through college. Perhaps more importantly is the fact that my ability to type has given me a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of writing a book. I’m retired from the career that I was in for 25 years. I am not rich, and I doubt that I ever will be, but through perseverance and frugal living I now maintain a decent income and way of life. Instead of greeting customers at Walmart or bussing tables in a café to make ends meet, I am able to spend time with my grandchildren, travel, and write. I am able to communicate with others in a way that just wouldn’t be possible without being able to type.

            If you’re young and going to high school or college and you take some class that you just don’t see any good reason to have to take other than it is required, then keep in mind that you just might learn something in those classes that will change your life for the better somewhere down the road. Embrace learning. Spend a summer working somewhere doing something that teaches you something you don’t know how to do. You just never know when your life’s calling may be found in the most unlikely place.

Dear Friends

Hello Readers and Friends!

            I know that people are reading my blog and visiting my website. I know this because of the counter that tells me how many views that I have had. To all of you who come and read my blog I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You'll never know how much it means to me. That said, I would like you to do something for me if you don't mind. I need a little feedback. I compare it to a performer standing on a stage and he knows that there are people listening, but there's no feedback of any kind. It would really help me to know your thoughts on what I post. It doesn't have to be a long comment. Even a simple "Amen!" or "I know how you feel" would be great.

            I am get upwards of 50-75 visits to my blog a day now yet I rarely get any comment. I asked a friend about this who happens to read my blog every day and she told me that she doesn't want her personal information shown or sold, so she doesn't comment. I was very surprised because I did not realize that anyone would get this impression from the site. So, let me explain how you can very easily make a comment without me or my website knowing a thing about you.

            Go to the bottom of the particular blog that you want to make a comment on. Click on "comment". This will take you to a comment screen. You'll see spaces to show your name, website, etc. LEAVE THEM BLANK! Just skip down to the comment box, make your comment, check the box that verifies you are a real person and not a "robot", then click submit. THAT'S IT! Your comment is then shown in the comment section and listed as from "anonymous".

            None of your information can be obtained by my website nor am I interesting in keeping such information. Please note that I do not have advertisers on my website. I do not allow pop-ups or collection of information of who my readers are. That's not what my blog is all about. I simply want to share with you my thoughts, memories, and views on a whole host of subjects. I think that many of you have some of the same views, similar memories, and shared thoughts. While it is true that someday I may use my website to offer for sale (direct from me) a book that I am writing, my intention is for you to enjoy what I have to say with no strings attached.

            So, I ask you to simply make a comment from time to time as though we are having a conversation. I hope to hear from you occasionally and if you like my blog, then please share it with your friends and family. Just copy the link for a given blog entry and forward it via whatever method you wish to choose.

            Thanks again and I hope your days are filled with the joy of living.

            Sincerely,

            James R. Stout (Randy to my friends!)

Don't Join The Circus

            It happened frequently when I was growing up. Perhaps one of my sisters got something and I didn’t or maybe I felt that I had been overlooked for something that I believed that I should have been rewarded for. Whatever the reason was didn’t really matter. Too often I would loudly proclaim, “That’s not fair!” It didn’t take long for me to know what the response was going to be from my father. He would say, “It’s no circus either.” I always hated that response.

            Over the next several years I chose to use that proclamation less and less. Part of the reason was because I didn’t want to hear the response from my father. But mostly I started to realize that life truly isn’t fair. As for the circus, well, life may well be a circus. There are certainly some strange critters out there in the world that are thinly disguised as human beings. Let’s think about some of those critters.

            First, there are the clowns. Did you know that there is a word for the fear of clowns? Yep, it’s called coulrophobia (cool-roe-foe-be-uhh). I think I may have a fear of the people who possess advanced degrees in psychology who coin such words. But think about the clowns you’ve met in life. Some of them may be harmless. Maybe you have a co-worker who is prone to practical jokes. You get to work one day and when you open a desk drawer out jumps a colorful plastic snake. You immediately know that the office clown is the culprit. How about the guy who is three shades brighter than flamboyant? He shows up at work wearing canary yellow pants, a pink shirt, a lime green sport coat, and purple spats. Yea, he’s definitely a clown. Then there are the clowns that are harmful. They may well belong in an asylum. These people are getting more and more common today. They will say or do something that they will claim was just for fun, but their motives are not. They’re the kind of people who throw a verbal grenade into the room and then apologize profusely claiming they didn’t mean it the way it sounded. The only thing is you can tell they are enjoying the chaos immensely.

            Next up we have the acrobats. These are the people who drive you nuts with their jumping, bouncing, flipping, and somersault ways. You may be in great shape, but these people make a point of telling you how many steps they took today or the 7-mile hike they took before breakfast. They are also the ones who you never want to go out to lunch with. While you eat your chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes, they nibble on tofu concoctions and lettuce that even a rabbit would walk away from hungry. And there are those looks at your plate. Not looks of envy, but more like disgust. You just know they’re going to hurl that tofu at you any moment.

            Now we come to the lion tamers. These guys are probably the nuttiest bunch of them all. What sane person sticks his head into the mouth of a lion? The same question can be asked about the person who takes chances that are profoundly reckless. Maybe they own an Italian made motorcycle that evokes visions of Slim Pickens riding the nuclear missile in “Dr. Strangelove”. They do things that no sane person would ever do. They’re called “adrenalin junkies”.

            Finally, there’s the Master of Ceremonies. These guys are just politicians in disguise. They introduce the acts and give the appearance that they are above the fray. How many times have we seen a press conference where a mayor or governor introduces a wealthy benefactor or a military hero? The politician is hoping that the goodwill towards the benefactor or hero will rub off on him. He may even be hoping that you’ll believe that he is a peer of the benefactor or hero.

            Now, let’s get back to the part about life not being fair. The truth is fairness has nothing to do with life. We live in an existence that is quite simply one of cause and effect. Sometimes we suffer the events of something caused by someone else or some kind of natural event. It certainly doesn’t seem fair to us at the time. It may never seem fair for the rest of our lives. But one only has to wonder how it is fair when they see a report of a tornado that completely destroys a house and kills a family while not causing any damage to a house and family across the street. Here’s a dirty little thought. The loved ones of the those who were killed may be thinking how unfair life is while the family across the street is praising God for being so blessed. There’s something fundamentally disturbing about that. I’m not saying that God doesn’t spare one family and allow another to die. Only He knows the why of things. But the truth is the family that survived should indeed be thankful for being delivered from the storm, but it would be wrong to think that they were somehow or other more worthy of God’s blessing than the family that perished. Think about the two thieves on the crosses on either side of Jesus. They are both guilty. One basically says, “This isn’t fair!” But it was. He was guilty and had to pay for his crime. The other thief admits his guilt and says, “This is fair. It is just.” He also defends Jesus by saying that Jesus had committed no crime or sin and His crucifixion was not fair nor just in any way. He doesn’t ask Jesus to spare him from death on the cross. He simply asks that Jesus remember him when Jesus is in Paradise. Here’s the best part. Jesus tells that thief that he will be with Jesus in Paradise that very day! Guess what? That’s not fair either. It’s far beyond fair. It is a gift purchased by Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. The only catch is you have to ask Him to be in your life and to be your Lord and Savior.

            When I was 18 years old, I had a re-dedication of my life to Jesus. I was inspired to write a song. The song was called “You Just Gotta Believe”. I always liked phrases and words with double meanings. In this case, “gotta” could be construed a couple of different ways. There’s the lesser meaning such as when Will Smith says, “I gotta get me one of these!” while flying the alien spacecraft in “Independence Day”. The more important meaning is that all you have to do to receive eternal life is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He came to give His life for our sins because nothing we can do can earn that gift.

            So, life isn’t fair. Get over it and do the best that you can with the life that you have. Life is a gift and we should never take it for granted. I’ve known people that have handicaps that I can not imagine living with. Yet they not only live with those handicaps, they thrive. They love life. They may not love their handicap, but they love living. As hard as it may be to do at times, I try to make the best of life. Next time you get to thinking something isn’t fair, then remember that it may well not be “fair”, but you can choose to either make the best of things or you can join the circus. The choice is yours.

Happy Trails

            There have been times in my life that I haven’t exactly made the smartest decisions. Fortunately, I have thus far survived despite some of those errant decisions. I even managed to come out of a few of those situations with something special to show for it. I was in Arizona checking out some of the incredible natural sights to see in that wonderful state. I spent two days at the Grand Canyon and my main goal was to get as many photos as possible of the different views of the canyon in the short time that I was going to be there. It was my second trip to the canyon, and I had done the Clark Griswold thing on the first trip. You know what I mean? Drive to the different lookouts, pile out of the car, go to the railings, ooh and ahh a lot, and take way too many pictures. But not this trip.

            I didn’t have the time to do the hike down to the canyon floor nor the desire to ride a mule. But I did search for some vantage points that would provide a few unique shots beyond the norm. I had parked at one of the lookouts but decided that I would follow what appeared to be a game trail. At first, I thought it was going to be a bust because the trail wound around in the woods and seemed as though it was veering away from the canyon. I kept going and I realized that I was heading back towards the rim of the canyon, but the brush and undergrowth were getting thicker and thicker and I was barely able to make out glimpses of the canyon. I came to a low spot in the trail and I had to stoop down and almost waddle through the brush. I doubt that I could do that trick today. My knees just wouldn’t cooperate. But it was worth the discomfort that day. I suddenly was in the clear and standing very close to the edge of the rim. Too close. Way to close.

            But my trusty camera was quickly employed in taking pictures of a stunning view. To be honest, being that close to the edge was stupid. It was very dangerous and to slip and fall would mean to slip and fall a long way. I couldn’t help myself though. I took the photos that I wanted to, including the one I’ve attached to this entry in my blog. Take note of the snow still on the rock ledge in the foreground. The camera that I had at the time did not have the ability to take wide landscape photos. I wish that it had because what you can’t see is just as beautiful as what you can see. After I took my fill of pictures, I took off my lightweight jacket and sat down about 2 feet from the edge. It was warmer than you might think despite the snow still found in the shaded areas. I just soaked up the beauty of that vista. I found myself thanking God for the gift of that view, the ability to see it, and for life in general.

            I spent about 30 minutes sitting there and then it was time to move on. I freely admit that I scooted backwards on my rump for a couple of feet before standing up. I wanted room to lose my balance without losing my life! As I stated at the beginning of this entry, I have made some dumb decisions along the way, but sometimes they work out. One truth that I have found about life is that as you get older you tend to be more cautious. I have learned from making my own mistakes, but I have also learned from witnessing other people make mistakes. I doubt very seriously that I would try to go back to that spot on the canyon rim today. Like Dirty Harry said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” I guess on that day several years ago I was either very lucky or perhaps I knew that I could do what I did and therefore I did it. I’m thankful for that opportunity. Another truth about life is that sometimes you have to take a chance. Never taking a chance makes life stagnant. I’m reminded of a song by Seals and Crofts from 1973, “We May Never Pass This Way Again”. I’m pretty darned sure that I will never stand at that viewpoint again. It’s just not going to happen. For one thing, there’s too many things that I haven’t seen yet that I want to see rather than going back and attempting to repeat a moment in time now gone. But you know what? I have those pictures. I can look at a picture and I’m able to relive that moment.

            So, my friends I urge you to go out there and take a few chances. Be careful though and take lots of pictures. You’ll likely never experience those special moments more than once, but when you one day can’t do what you can do now, you’ll have those photos to look back on and remember. Happy trails!

 

Paul Harvey

            My first memories of Paul Harvey are from when I was about 5 years old. That would have been circa 1960. I have previously mentioned in my writings that I would spend a lot of time with my grandparents on their farm when I was young. In those days, my grandmother would be cooking lunch and would therefore be busy in the kitchen. Their main meal was always lunch. It might include fried chicken, black-eyed peas, homemade mashed potatoes, cornbread, and perhaps banana pudding for dessert. Supper was always leftovers from that day’s lunch. When she would be in the kitchen working on lunch, she always had the radio station from Crockett, Texas on. The station would give local and county news, but the best part was the Paul Harvey News segment. His voice was such a calming and soothing voice. Hearing his report made you feel like things were going to work out right no matter how bad it might seem. I can still hear his voice and his famous tag line at the end, “Good day!”

            Throughout the 60’s I enjoyed listening to his program. I think it would be fair to say that he was one of the most influential personalities during my years as a child. There was a comfort in hearing his take on the day’s news. But then I reached my teenage years and I was more interested in girls, music, and all that stuff like “that that there”. Meanwhile, Paul Harvey was still on the air and despite the newer liberal mindset present and growing in America, Mr. Harvey was a steadfast conservative voice.

            By the late 70’s I was in my 20’s and married. I worked in downtown Houston and commuted on the Katy Freeway every day. For two years of those commutes I drove an old 1962 Ford Falcon. It was proof that I most definitely had not found a pot of gold. It boasted such amenities as no heater, no a/c, a large dent in the rear driver’s side door, an engine that only a snail would envy, and an AM radio that relied on potholes to turn off and on. The local radio station that carried Paul Harvey News would broadcast his “The Rest of the Story” segments at 5:55 p.m. on weekdays. I was able to listen to those segments because the Katy Freeway said that I could.

            In 1982 we decided to take a week of vacation and spend it at the farm. It was in August of that year that we loaded up the 1972 Plymouth Fury Station Wagon and went to the farm. The old farmhouse had not been remodeled yet and was pretty much the way it had been since I could remember. We had added a window a/c unit to the big bedroom and would close off the doors to that room so that we had a “cold” room. Like I said, it was August and East Texas in August means high humidity and generally triple digit temperatures. But that old house was built in a time when houses could “breath”. We could open all the windows and turn on the big floor fans and it was tolerable. Besides, if it got too hot there was the cold room.

            One day that week we drove down to Huntsville, Texas to do a little shopping. Most of the shopping in Huntsville was still on the courthouse square even as late as the early 80’s. There were two Five and Dime Stores, a sewing supplies and fabric store, a barbershop (I didn’t use them much in those days though), and various other establishments. I went into one of the Dime stores and was searching for something to read. We didn’t have TV at the farm and on those hot afternoons we would relax and do some reading. I needed reading matter considering I had inhaled the latest Dirk Pitt novel in two days. They had a rack of paperback books in the store and I found two books that I immediately chose. “The Rest of the Story” and “More of The Rest of the Story” by Paul Harvey. Between those two books and the old copies of “Reader’s Digest” from the 60’s that were still at the farmhouse, I had more than enough excellent reading matter for the remainder of the week.

            There are some good memories I have of that week including hiking the 360 acres of the farm much as I had as a child, grilling burgers and hot dogs on the hibachi on the front porch, long drives on the country roads, being young and feeling alive with the future still before me, and some lazy time sitting in my grandfather’s old rocking recliner and reading those Paul Harvey books. My wife enjoyed those stories too and I would read some of them aloud to enjoy together. I look back on that week and realize now that things were about to change greatly in the next few years. Fatherhood, career changes, the end of one dream and the beginning of another, and in many ways that week was the end of an era for me. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time.

            Thinking back on those years I am so grateful to have had the pleasure of listening to Paul Harvey News and especially his “The Rest of the Story” segments. His style, his voice, and his traditional conservative American views still resonate with me. I miss hearing his voice and his take on current events. Mr. Harvey passed away in 2009 within a year of the passing of his wife Lynne. They were a team. She was instrumental in his success and was herself inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame for her production skills including her husband’s show. They had been married for over 60 years.

            I truly wish that the young people of today could listen to his programs and benefit from his views and wisdom. Everything is so fast today. I know how hectic life is when you’re young and raising a family, but it’s even worse today than ever before. The young people of today are in such a hurry. The saddest part about that is they don’t know what they are missing. I drove through a fast-food restaurant last night and ordered a chicken sandwich and a drink. When I got to the drive-thru window the young woman talked so fast that I couldn’t understand a word she said. It was like hearing a foreign language. It didn’t help that there was prodigious freeway noise in the background. I know she probably thought that I was just an old man, but I requested that she slow down and speak clearly. At least she didn’t roll her eyes. After she did as I asked, I told her that she had a very pretty voice when she slowed down and for just a second or two, she smiled, and I think it made her day.

            When I was 19 years old, I wrote a song that had a line in it that went, “Life goes by so quickly”. It really does. It may not seem like it at the time, but as my father used to say it went, “lickity split”. I think a great part of the appeal that Paul Harvey had was that he made you slow down and think. I checked online to see if the “The Rest of the Story” is available on CD. Well, it was at one time, but it seems even CD’s are a thing of the past today. I “think” it might be available via Podcast, but I’ll have to check into that further. That said, I’ll have to figure out whatever it takes to listen to a Podcast. Maybe I can figure a way to get them downloaded to my iPod and be able to listen to them in my truck. Hey, I could drive around the same country roads that my Grandma and Grandpa and I drove down and listen to Paul Harvey all over again. That’s a worthwhile goal. Oh, “and now you know the rest of the story”.

The Bully Oof

            I suppose we all had at least one when we were growing up. One what, you ask? A self-appointed tormentor. Otherwise known as a “bully”. Bullies have been around since the beginning of time. During my years from about 8 to 14 there were three different guys that I was bullied by. In all three cases the bully was bigger than me by a good bit and each of them were essentially serial killers in training. Hey, that’s the way I see it. The first experience that I had with a bully was a guy named Teddy Williams. He was two years older than me, about a head taller, and outweighed me by a good 30 pounds. He had a sadistic streak that may have inspired a few Stephen King characters.

            We had just moved into a new neighborhood and it didn’t take us long to find out that the William’s were the bosses of the neighborhood. The first night after we moved into the house Mr. and Mrs. Williams came down to introduce themselves to my parents. Mom and Dad initially thought it was such a friendly neighborly gesture. Hmmph! As they all sat at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee Mrs. Williams stops the small talk and sets the tone of things to come.

            She looked at my parents and said, “We mainly wanted to come down and tell you how we do things around here.”

            Mom and Dad were too shocked to say anything. They simply exchanged glances. After the William’s left, Mom and Dad were left to wonder if they had made a colossal mistake moving into the neighborhood. Teddy was an only child. A very spoiled only child. The bullying started simply enough. I would be walking by their house and Teddy would start pummeling me with china berries. This soon escalated to blocking my way and verbal threats. Before long he was punching me in the arm, tripping me, and basically finding as many ways as he could to torment me. Then one day he made a mistake.

            I was outside playing in the vacant lot next to our house and Teddy comes over and stands on my feet, effectively immobilizing me. Then he acted as if he was going to punch me in the face and I lifted my arms to block the punch. Only he didn’t go for my face. He hit me in stomach with all the power he had. I doubled over in pain but didn’t cry. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. Teddy had about 10 seconds to enjoy his handiwork. What he didn’t know was my older sister had come outside to tell me it was time for supper. She witnessed the whole thing.

            Debbie was a bonafide “Tomboy”. She was a year older than Teddy and already 5’ 6” tall. She could run faster than, climb a tree faster than, and kick a kickball farther than any kid in the neighborhood. While I was recovering from the sucker punch to my gut, Debbie ran over and told Teddy he better not do that again.

            “What are you gonna do about it?” Teddy quipped.

            Debbie didn’t say a word. She just hauled-off and punched Teddy in the stomach. A punch that most certainly would have caused Batman to say, “Oof”. She was my hero. Teddy was now bending over clutching his stomach, gasping for breath, and doing something that I had not done. He was crying. This single act was enough for me to never again be afraid of Teddy. The most hilarious thing about the entire incident was when Teddy’s mother and father came down to complain to my parents about their son being “assaulted” by Debbie. Dad got the story from us and with a bit of a grin told the William’s to pound sand. Well, he didn’t say those words, but you get my drift. You would have thought that Teddy’s father would have been more embarrassed over his son being beat-up by a girl. I didn’t have any problems with Teddy after that. Mainly because Debbie had told him that if he bothered me again, then she would bother him again. Like I said, she was my hero.

            I won’t go into the other bullying cases. They were typical kids’ stuff. I will tell you how bullying came to an end for me. It was about 4 years later. There was this kid named Greg who was a bully-wannabe. He didn’t really have the makings of a bully though. But he sure wanted to be one. I was walking home from the grocery store one day. It was the summer of my 14th year. I saw Greg coming from the other direction and I pretty much groaned because he was always trying to be bully to other kids and I just knew that he would try something. I wasn’t afraid of Greg a bit though.

            Greg sees me and starts bouncing up and down on his toes with excitement. No doubt he thought he was going to have some fun. My plan was to ignore him if possible. But Greg wouldn’t be ignored. He blocked my way on the sidewalk and said something mean. I don’t remember what it was, but I feel sure it was lame. That’s when he made his mistake. He reaches out with his right arm and starts to push me on the shoulder with his right hand. Dad had shown me a few self-defense moves and this was a perfect time to put one of them into use. I grabbed his right hand and pretty much bent it backwards at an angle no hand was ever meant to be bent. Greg went to his knees and started to scream. I kept the pressure on his hand and then Greg started pleading with me to stop. He was saying things like, “I was just kidding” and “I didn’t mean anything”. A little more pressure and he was going to have some broken fingers, but I’m not a sadistic guy. I wasn’t then and I’m certainly not now. I simply told him that he should re-evaluate how he treats people. You know what happened over the next few months? He tried to be my best friend. I’m sorry to say that I had to disappoint him on that goal. But he was always very polite to me after that.

            Now, to tell you the truth, I have never been prone to violence. I learned some self-defense moves and if someone were to try to harm a loved one, then I no doubt would meet violence with violence if necessary. Even that little run-in with Greg didn’t inspire in me a desire to be violent. It’s just not my nature nor does it meet the standards that I try very hard to uphold. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I won’t let someone hurt me or my loved ones. I am a peacemaker at heart. If I can talk someone into being reasonable, then that is my goal. What I worry about these days is how much violence is witnessed by our children. When I was a kid, we watched cowboy movies and there were gunfights and so forth. But when someone was shot, we didn’t get to see the gore that is depicted in movies today. I have to some degree enjoyed the Avengers movies over the past decade. But besides being over-the-top unrealistic, the violence is way too much. These are movies that kids flock to see in record-breaking numbers. All of this violence is stealing our children’s (in my case, grandchildren’s) innocence. And we’re not even talking about the obscenities they are subjected to with language and sex.

            I’m not a diehard censorship advocate, but I do believe that the standards should be readjusted for the kind of movies that children are allowed to see in public theaters. But that’s just a small part of the problem. It’s what the parents allow the children to see that bothers me. Not all parents by any means, but far too many. When my grandchildren come to stay with me, and we watch movies I show them movies from a library of movies that I have purchased especially for them to see. I show them old Disney movies like “Pollyanna” and “The Parent Trap” (the original one). They loved watching “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”, “National Velvet”, “The Three Lives of Thomasina”, and “That Darn Cat”. Besides good entertainment in those movies, they also get an age appropriate perspective on good guys and bad guys and good versus evil.

            Let’s let children be children. It’s not just movies either. We shouldn’t give a child free and unmonitored access to the internet. I hope I don’t have to explain why. The same goes for social media. I know that I sound like an old fogie. So what? As a grandfather I have a big responsibility to help my grandchildren grow into good and decent adults. I am so fortunate that my children are doing the right things in raising my grandchildren. And I do my part to reinforce this and to set an example for them. I am blessed to have 5 wonderful and beautiful granddaughters and I take seriously my part in showing them a better way than what the world wants to show them. I challenge you to do the same. Together, we can make a difference in their innocent lives and the future society, a society in which they will one day be the adults.

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